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Should You Buy All Aspects of Your IP From a Single Supplier?

Should You Buy All Aspects of Your IP From a Single Supplier?
by Paul McLellan on 06-16-2013 at 9:18 am

Interface IP typically consists of multiple layers, most importantly a PHY (level 1) analog (or mixed signal) block that handles the interface to the outside world and a number of levels of digital controllers. The interfaces between all these levels, especially between the PHY and the controller, is often defined by the interface standard. So, in principle, any PHY should work with any controller. Verification IP should work with any block. And so on.

For example in the M-PHY/UniPro stack, the M-PHY occupies L1 but also lives in the entire UniPro stack. The Host Controller Interface for UFS communicates with transport layer at L4.

However the best way to avoid errors is to use the highly structured verification plans, tools and frameworks that have been developed together for digital SoCs and integration-ready IP with all necessary models and views. Companies like Arasan specialize in providing not just the IP blocks themselves but also the entire verification ecosystem.

To make things worse, the standards are constantly evolving. So it is not just necessary to implement the changes and ensure that the firmware, the digital logic and the analog blocks are all compatible with the new revision (and usually upward compatible with older revisions too). It is also important to provide tools for users to validate their semiconductor design.

For example, the next generation of high-performance mobile storage will use JEDEC’s UFS standard. This provides a host controller interface and leverages SCSI protocols and the MIPI standards UniPro and M-PHY. The current versions are UniPro 1.4, M-PHY 2.0 and UFS 1.1 but they are set to revise this summer to UniPro 1.5, M-PHY 3.0 and UFS 2.0. SoC designers simply don’t have the bandwidth to undertake verification of this sort of complexity themselves. They don’t even have the bandwidth to check that components from different suppliers work together cleanly. So the best solution is to acquire a complete product with all the necessary views from a single supplier.

Arasan also develops and markets FPGA based platforms configured for a number of digital and analog IP products. Customers and eco-system partners use these platforms as:

  • A platform for early software development
  • A platform for SoC validation
  • A platform for production testing
  • A platform for compliance and interoperability testing.

The challenges are especially acute with new standards, or new versions of existing standards, since standard-compliant devices are not immediately available making verification especially tricky. You can’t just go to Amazon and buy a memory card that is compliant to the new standard, only ones that are compliant to the existing mature standards. What is needed is a whole portfolio consisting of the IP blocks, the verification IP, FPGA-based platforms and, perhaps, other specialized tools.

Chip-level validation is hard enough so pre-verified IP subsystems reduce risk and pull in schedules.

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