We have all become so used to ‘smart’ things that perhaps in a way we have forgotten what it was like before many of the things we use day to day had sensors and microprocessors to help them respond to their environment. Cars are an excellent example. It used to be commonplace to run down your battery by leaving your lights on. Now cars are smart enough to turn them off if left on too long. Even better illustrations are how cars adapt to driving at elevation or warm up smoothly when cold. There were simple mechanical gizmos that tried to compensate for operating conditions, but they were prone to malfunction or operating poorly. The use of monitoring has completely changed how reliable things are and how well they can adapt to changing conditions.
What we sometime fail to appreciate is that SOCs need to be smart in the same way. If my car can adjust the fuel mixture to compensate for temperature or oxygen levels, then why shouldn’t ICs adjust automatically for things like metal variation, operating voltage or even local temperature levels? If ICs can be made smart then performance, reliability and even yield will improve. Moortec is an IP provider that has been focusing on in-chip monitoring for almost a decade. They have sensors and controllers that can be embedded in SOCs during design that can help measure, adjust and compensate for a large variety of issues that occur in ICs during operation and over time as they age.
The most basic use of PVT sensors is to expedite and facilitate testing. Chips can be rapidly binned and proper operation can be verified by checking internal performance characteristics. However, there is a lot to gain by moving beyond using in-chip sensors for test and using them to dynamically manage chip operation.
Chips endue stress from higher self-heating with newer process nodes and the higher densities that they bring. Electrical overstress, electro migration, hot carrier aging, and increased negative bias temperature instability all threaten IC operation. Likewise, IR drops caused by increased gate capacitance, more resistive metal, and even supply issues can cause performance degradation or even failure. Additionally, process variation is harder to control because of new variation sources, multiple thresholds and the effects of ageing.
Moortec has been working on this problem since 2010, with their focus on in-chip monitoring systems. They have put together a system that uses several different sensor IP blocks that can be placed one or more times on the die. They tie these sensors together with a PVT controller which can be used to support DVFS/AVS, clock speed optimization, silicon characterization, and increased reliability and device lifetime.
Their process monitoring IP block uses multiple ring oscillators to assess device and interconnect properties. With the results of this sensor it is possible to perform speed binning, age monitoring and report timing analysis.
The voltage monitoring IP block is extremely versatile. It can monitor IR drop, core and IO voltage domains, and facilitates AVS. At the same time, it also helps monitor the quality of the supplies. It is useful in detecting supply events, perturbations, and supply spikes. An interesting feature is the ability to use one instance to monitor multiple supply domain channels in FinFET nodes.
The last leg of the triad is their temperature sensor. It has high accuracy and resolution and offers a number of testability features together with variable sampling modes to allow higher sampling rates if needed for performance.
High reliability and performance both require in-chip monitoring. In each of the critical markets for semiconductors today, it is necessary to squeeze out every ounce of performance while ensuring reliable operation. In safety critical systems such as ADAS, monitoring proper functioning and detecting age related failures is mandatory. Mobile devices need to operate at the lowest power possible, so DVFS is almost always used. In servers, high operating speed generate significant heating which even when minimized can still affect chip operation.
Moortec’s solution looks like it offers IP that is easily deployable to make chips smarter. I just wish that my parents’ carbureted Pontiac I drove in high school had the smart features that today’s technology provides. However, talking about that is a little bit like complaining about what a hassle dial phones were back in the day. That said, it seems inevitable that all chips will be smart soon enough. More information about
Moortec’s in-chip monitoring IP is available on their website.