Santa Cruz, Calif. - A tool from startup Silicon Dimensions Inc. is said to help logic engineers approach design closure on block-level designs. The Chip2Nite tool, to be announced this week, provides floor planning, placement, analysis and optimization and can be integrated into existing EDA tool flows.
The 14-employee company has raised $3 million in venture funding. Acknowledging that its idea is not new, Silicon Dimensions promises to approach it differently. Other suppliers have offered floor planning, placement and optimization tool sets that sit between logical and physical design. Sapphire Design Automation, Silicon Perspective Corp. and Avanti Corp. all fielded such tools, but those companies have all been acquired over the last few years and their technologies folded into broader tool suites.
Chip2Nite "is not a rehash of something built from back-end tools," said Don Zereski, a co-founder of Silicon Dimensions (Marlborough, Mass.) and now its president and CEO. "It is a new initiative totally focused on the logic designer. It's built with an understanding of the difficulties that logic designers went through with prior tools, and it's extremely intuitive and user-friendly." Zereski formerly led InfiniSwitch Corp. and held executive positions at Groupe Bull, Data General and Digital Equipment Corp.
Silicon Dimensions offers a "platform for the logic design engineer that enables block-level design planning with rapid analysis and optimization that maximizes the possibility of design closure," Zereski said.
Silicon Dimensions is one of several startups attacking "weak" points in the IC implementation tool set, said Gary Smith, chief EDA analyst at Gartner Dataquest.
"A point tool won't make it too far in the market, but they don't have to," Smith said. "If you can get enough power users to replace parts of the IC implementation tool set with your tool, then the three main players will have to upgrade their tools, and of course purchasing the startup is a good way to do that." The EDA market's three main players are Synopsys, Cadence Design Systems and Mentor Graphics.
Zereski said it was critical to give design planning, placement and analysis to logic designers as feature sizes shrink below 130 nanometers. "Unless there's an ability for the logic designer to interact with the physical designer, issues relative to design closure are becoming extremely difficult and very costly," he said. "By attacking problems on the front end, we can eliminate iterations back and forth between the logical and physical designers."
Addressing the possible contention that Chip2Nite is made moot by the advent of physical synthesis tools, which combine synthesis with placement, Silicon Dimensions co-founder and chief technology officer Mike Naum said Chip2Nite could still provide gate-level design planning and analysis in a physical synthesis flow. He added that placement and routing systems from Cadence Design Systems, Synopsys and Magma will keep placement "exactly" as set by Chip2Nite, rather than tear it up and start over. Naum previously worked as a logical and physical IC designer at Sun Microsystems Inc.
IC implementation tool sets from Cadence, Synopsys and Magma have floor planning, placement and optimization tools, Naum said, but they are not aimed at logic designers. He acknowledged that tool sets from these vendors offer integrated databases but said Chip2Nite works with standard formats, including Verilog and Design Exchange Format (DEF).
"In the future, we could move into [open-source] OpenAccess or [Synopsys] Milkyway, but right now we're keeping it open to play with everybody," he said. He also noted that while Chip2Nite has its own static timing engine, Silicon Dimensions provides scripts that drive Synopsys' PrimeTime timing analyzer, used by most chip designers for sign-off.
Chip2Nite has six modules: a data preparation module, a Verilog-to-DEF converter, a block planner, a placer, an analyzer and an optimizer. All but the optimizer are available now; the optimizer is expected later this month.
Chip2Nite is available now on Linux platforms starting at $83,000 for a one-year subscription.