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VLSI trends: Scaling CMOS to its limit

Posted: 16 Feb 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nanometre era  VLSI Design Conference  SystemC 

Over 1,000 technologists, researchers, experts and students from around the world converged in the city of Hyderabad on Jan. 5, 2008 to attend the 21st International Conference on VLSI Design and the 7th International Conference on Embedded Systems focusing on "Technology challenges in the nanoelectronics era."

In his keynote speech, Dirk Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Advanced Micro Devices Inc., said, "Profitability in the semiconductor industry is beginning to show signs of decline. Customers are beginning to demand more than just performance—power efficiency is now the foremost demand. The industry needs to recognise this trend and make customer-centricity the driver and energy-efficiency the cornerstone of its offerings."

This was followed by the plenary keynote address by Wally Rhines, CEO of Mentor Graphics Corp. Rhines examined three areas—semiconductor place and route, low-power design and verification—undergoing major transformations, offering India great potential. "A growing force of well-educated designers working with established companies positions India at the forefront of assimilating new design methodologies. That's why India's future looks so promising in IC design," Rhine said.

The five-day conference consisted of sessions of tutorials, plenary keynote speeches and panel discussions. More than 100 technical papers and a technical exhibition were set to cover the new paradigms in design, EDA and system implementation. "The VLSI domain has traversed from a 'microelectronics era' to a 'nanoelectronics era'. Shrinking geometries and the increasing complexity of technologies bring along with them a plethora of challenges to use these technologies effectively. Therefore, the theme of the conference has been selected as 'Technology challenges in the nanoelectronics era', as CMOS technology continues to scale further in the nanometre dimension," Dasaradha R Gude, general chair of the VLSI Design Conference 2008 said.

Started in 1985 as a small workshop at IIT Madras, under the visionary guidance of Vishwani Agarwal of Auburn University and Prof. H.N. Mahabala of IIT Madras, the international VLSI conference has been sponsored and promoted by The VLSI Society of India. Since then, the conference has steadily grown in terms of content and attendance. The core members of the organising team were Srimat Chakradhar, J.A. Chowdhury and Dasaradha Gude.

Special sessions
This year, the conference introduced for the first time a "student track," which proved to be an industry-academia connect. The track consisted of speeches, presentations, career planning and technological trends. Gude said: "The conference founders recognise the importance of supporting VLSI and embedded processor design education. While our formal education teaches us the basics for managing a particular subject, it is important to realise how vital industry participation is for the development of student orientation to deal with reality of their career prospects."

"The student track was a unique opportunity to get a better understanding of VLSI technology, embedded systems and what the future demands from us. It gave us an opportunity to seek help from VLSI experts on how to shape our career in the VLSI Industry," a student attendee remarked.

The conference also had a "Student Design Contest" covering two categories—"operational" and "conceptual designs" for graduates and undergraduates, respectively—which was designed to promote excellence in the design of electronics systems in educational establishments by providing a venue for students to showcase their designs.

Another attraction at the VLSI Conference 2008 was a panel discussion on "Standards in EDA." The panelists provided their views on various efforts in EDA standard, including how to participate in activities of the standard bodies, the efforts taken to align various regional and IP qualification groups such as VSIA and STARC, the reasons for sharing matured technology for standardisation, and consolidation of various standards bodies.

The Exhibition
Over 50 exhibits were the centre of attraction at the conference, which showcased new designs and gave a first-hand view of how these companies are performing at the forefront of technology in India. The stalls exhibited some of the industry's innovative technology concepts that will take the centre stage and move the industry to next level, representing the spectrum of VLSI and embedded systems, devices and components.

According to Raju Pudota, managing director of Denali Design Systems India, "The technical exhibition gave us a platform to showcase our products and technologies. Our focus item on display was an advanced NAND Flash solution for the hand-held and ultra-mobile processor systems." "The NAND controller solution was developed at Denali's Bangalore design centre using the company's design process for developing highly configurable IP, and has been verified by an environment developed using SystemVerilog," Raju explained.

Agilent Technology Inc. showcased oscilloscopes powered with a software triggering capability called Inifniiscan, which can trigger on a 100ps glitch, a non-monotonic edge, an 80bit serial pattern and other signal anomalies. Also on display were logic analysers designed to debug digital designs such as DSPs, microprocessors and memories.

Actel Corp. displayed its whole array of FPGAs ranging from Pro ASIC3, a flash-based low-cost FPGA family; Igloo, a 5W low-power and high-density FPGA family; Fusion, a mixed-signal FPGA family; RTAX-S, a radiation-tolerant family for space applications; and Core MP7, a low-cost 32bit microprocessor core.

Besides EDA, test and measurement, embedded systems and design companies based in India, the exhibition also saw some international participation. One such booth that was a major crowd puller was the University of Tehran.

University of Tehran booth
University of Tehran looks for business opportunities in India.
Dr. Navabi, Professor of ECE and the head of the CAD research group at the University of Tehran explained, "We believe that the fast growth of the Indian electronics and semiconductor industry can and will go beyond India and into other countries of the region. With the talent and the need for growth in Iran, we are in an ideal situation to benefit from this technological growth."

"Because we are a university-based company, our strong research motivations have enabled us to look beyond today's technology and create tools for the next decade of digital design," Navabi added.

The University of Tehran displayed EDA tools that included:

  • SystemC Studio—A low-cost collection of EDA/ESL tools useful for designers making a transition from RTL into ESL. The low cost of this integrated set of tools makes it affordable for small companies wanting to enter into the ESL era.
  • TLM Synthesis—An ESL tool that generates RTL code from several aspects of design. The tool currently supports bus, switch and transaction aspects of design.
  • Mixed Signal Simulation tool—An apex of RTL tools. The mixed-signal capabilities in the VHDL format can be used along with digital RTL code in VHDL, SystemC and Verilog.

Navabi revealed that their aims for coming to the conference included:

  • Finding distributors for their tools that have already been turned into products (e.g. SystemC Studio);
  • Finding partners for joint productisation and marketing of some of the advanced technologies they have developed (e.g. TLM synthesis);
  • Finding EDA companies that are willing to use their RTL-based compilers and front-end tools for integrating into their back-end tools (e.g. Tri-Language compiler/analyser);
  • Demonstrating their capabilities to attract R&D funding for developments in the areas of EDA and ESL;

    Looking for VCs to helping future developments and marketing.

"With the constantly changing landscape of the semiconductor industry, new challenges have emerged in designing, manufacturing and testing of VLSI systems," said a visitor to the show. "Then there are challenges posed by system integration, system security and embedded software development. The VLSI conference provided an insight into all these challenges."

The conference concluded with a promise to come back with more ideas for future technology developments, global trends and its impact on the industry. Attendees are looking forward to meeting again at the next VLSI Design Conference, slated to be held in New Delhi in January 2009.

- Dipti Agarwal
  EE Times-India




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