There are some companies that wish to be tools companies, but need to do some consulting to bring in enough money to keep them afloat while their product is being prepared or refined, and there are some companies that wish to be design companies and have no interest in tools. Algotochip sits somewhere in between these two models.
Founded in 2009, they currently have over 30 engineers. I spoke to Satish Padmanabhan their CTO. Their goal is to provide what can best be described as C-level handoff. They require a client provide them with a C-level, untimed, sequential description of the system along with a testbench to verify its behavior. They take it from there – all the way to GDS II. They place no restrictions at all on the C description, unlike most high-level synthesis tools. You want to use malloc - no problems. Pointers – naturally. They can do this because they involve humans in the design process and in addition adopt an architecture reminiscent of C level Design – one of the early high-level synthesis companies that closed their doors in 2001.
Alogotochip will build a custom processor to execute certain parts of the algorithm, or act as a control function. These processors are developed from scratch based on profiling the C code and are not a base instruction set with extensions. The flow delivers to the customer a full tool chain for the processor. They can also use other processor cores, such as ARM, if desired. Acceleratable parts of the algorithm go into dedicated hardware blocks and here they are using technology that they have developed internally. For other parts of the flow, they use tools supplied by other vendors, and can use specific tools specified by their clients.
I asked Satish if they see themselves becoming a tool company. He said that they prefer their existing business model and have no intent on becoming a tool company. I asked them about liability. He said that their company takes on the implementation liability, but many parts of the flow have interactions with the client to ensure their needs are met, and they never modify the C code without discussing it with the client first. The client is, of course, responsible for the C code being correct and for the testbenches they provide. If either of them are incomplete or in error, Algotochip takes no responsibility for failure.
So far the company has done about 100 tapeouts.Brian Bailey
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