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eSilicon Just Taped-out a SonicsGN-based SoC. And It’s Not a Secret

eSilicon Just Taped-out a SonicsGN-based SoC. And It’s Not a Secret
by Paul McLellan on 02-24-2015 at 7:00 am

 I slipped into the shadows at the back of the bar in the Tenderloin. Mid-afternoon on a weekday, almost nobody in there.

“So you’re with the NSA?” I asked.

“I can’t confirm that,” the man said.

“The Network Stealing Agency.”

“That’s not what it stands for,” he said indignantly. “It’s the National Security Agency. We ensure…well, that nothing bad happens.”

“And what have you stopped?”

“I’m not cleared to that level. But I’m assured something, so I’m sure it would have been bad. Anyway, I hear you have found out something about a network. We are always interested in networks.”

“Indeed. Apparently Sonics have been used as the NoC on a big SoC that eSilicon have been doing for a customer. They just taped-out.”


“No, not knock. NoC. Network-on-Chip. They used SonicsGN. It is their most advanced NoC.”

“How did you find this out? Did Edward Snowden leak it to you?”

“They put out a press release this morning.”

“Cunning. Hiding their secrets in plain sight. Like that Edgar Allen Poe story.”

“I don’t think they want it to be secret. You mean you didn’t know this already? You could’ve just read the news-wire.”

“That’s not our style. We like to be more indirect. We break into the company that makes the simcards for mobiles and steal the encryption keys for all the phones. Then we listen to all the calls. Then we run them through speech-to-text. Analyze for keywords. Run them through our million-server cloud farm datacenters. We know if anything important is going to happen pretty quickly. Maybe just a week later. I bet these Sonics and eSilicon people have been talking.”

“I’m sure they have. And the customer. There has to be a customer. eSilicon doesn’t make chips for themselves. They are a fabless ASIC company.”

“So it is a secret who the customer is. Secrets are our business. I bet we could find out who it is.”

“You will have the answer in a few months?”

“Maybe quicker. So why did these guys pick Sonics? It seems like it might be a big deal.”

“It was very high performance, 500GB/sec. They needed lots of flexibility. The schedule was aggressive so they wanted confidence that place and route would be straightforward and that timing closure would be fast.”

“Is it a big chip?”

“Yes, but much smaller than it could have been. With SonicsGN they didn’t waste all the area that hand-created interconnect based on buses would need.”

“So this network-on-chip thing. It’s all state-of-the-art multimode fiberoptic?”

“No, chips don’t work like that. It’s all copper.”

“Copper! Like in the olden days. Very retro. Are these guys all hipsters?”

“Right. All self-respecting IC designers wear scarves and hats, and ride fixies.”

“Really,” he said. “I didn’t know that. Do they all drink PBR?”

I sighed. “And some process technologies don’t just have copper. They even have air gaps to increase performance.”

“Air gaps. That’s something I know about. When an organization doesn’t have external connections to the Internet. We need to use cunning to get across an air gap, like with compromised thumb drives. Or turning their cell-phone microphones on and listening to their typing.”

“Is that really a thing?”

“I couldn’t possibly say. So how do I find out more about these NoCs?”

“There is an introductory webinar you can watch. NoC 101. The chief technology officer of Sonics presents it.”

“An officer? Like a 4-star general?”

“Not exactly. Are you interested in power?”

“Of course. We are the government. Oops, slip of the tongue. I mean we ‘work for’ the government. But yes, we are interested in power. The more the better.”

“That’s not how chips work. We like less power.”

“Less power. Who ever got anywhere with less power? Don’t you guys read Machiavelli?”

“Otherwise the chips get too hot. There is another webinar about that. NoC 102. That officer guy presents that one too. You can learn things like how the NoC can automatically power up and down blocks without the control processor being powered-up.”

“So how do I find these secret webinar thingies?”

“They are not secret. They are on the Sonics website. Just go to sonicsinc.com/resources/webinars.”

“Wow. So simple. I’ll get some supercomputers downloading and analyzing them immediately.”

“You could be watching in seconds on your phone.”

“They don’t let us have our own phones. Too big a security risk. We may not be the only people to steal all the simcard keys.”

“I need to go,” I said. “I have a piece to write.”

“So where do you publish?”

“SemiWiki. We follow the industry so you don’t have to.”

The Sonics press-release is here.

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