Intel’s Gadi Singer (vice president and general manager of Intel’s SoC Enabling Group) gave the keynote presentation at DAC 2011 yesterday and he discussed the evolution of electronic devices into vehicles that deliver experiences. To do this, these devices must be smart and, he said, they must arrive at an incredible cadence—annual product refresh cycles should be expected. Each refresh cycle must bring forth products that are significantly better, meaning they deliver richer experiences. Fall short of these requirements and you risk poor sales. To deliver richer experiences, said Singer, products must incorporate better silicon, provide better hardware support, and deliver richer software experiences.
In other words, this is the era of smart devices—devices that are connected, aware, and everywhere. Smart devices deliver a compelling user experience. Smart devices sell in this market.
We can build these devices, said Singer, because of Moore’s Law, which delivers exponentially increasing silicon capabilities. As an industry, we have decided to exploit the Moore’s Law bounty of transistors using on-chip microprocessors. More transistors equals more on-chip microprocessors and it’s clear that we are now deeply into the era of the MPSOC (multiple processor SoC). There’s a corollary to this situation. We are in the era of software. It is now software that largely determines the user experience. It is now software that harnesses raw silicon abilities to deliver user-accessible capabilities. Silicon implements a radio. Software implements WiFi. Hardware implements a capacitive touch screen. Software transforms the touch screen into a multi-touch display.
With all of these processors and all that software becoming commonplace, users expect “experience-driven innovation” from vendors. The rise of experience-driven innovation has a huge affect on the software stacks developed to deliver these experiences. Each stack must be designed, developed, and tuned. Consequently, software development costs measured as a percentage of R&D budgets have grown tremendously and the numbers of software-development professionals employed on SoC development teams has also grown to the point where there are at least as many software developers as hardware developers employed on SoC development teams.
(At this point, Singer referred the audience to the Cadence EDA360 White Paper for “an excellent analysis” of the whole problem. You can download this White Paper using the link on the right side of this page.)
Compelling products require a holistic design approach said Singer and he presented five major elements of this approach.
First, said Singer, you need to develop experiences from the outside in. You start with the desired experiences you want for the user and then add in the expected form factor for the product. You develop the necessary applications. Only then are you ready to implement the product using software and silicon.
To accomplish this sequence, Singer recommends an ESL approach. Not soon. Not five to ten years from now. Now. You must start by tuning application code at the ESL stage because there’s no power or performance margin in consumer products. You must get it right starting at the beginning. There will be no time, no processor capacity, and no battery power to permit tuning late in the game. Do it now.
That advice leads immediately to step two: design abstraction. You want to develop as much as you can at the highest possible level of abstraction so that you can develop code as rapidly as possible. These end applications are remarkably complex and require a lot of performance. RTL simulation is simply impossible. You’ll never finish, much less achieve annual product refresh cycles.
Next, you must co-optimize the system, the software, and the silicon. This recommendation invokes all three of the EDA360 Realizations simultaneously: System Realization, SoC Realization, and Silicon Realization.
Once you have something running, you’re not done. You are going to iterate everything as quickly as you can to produce the best possible product in the time available. If you don’t, be assured that your competitors will.
Finally, said Singer, you integrate all of the software stacks into a complete product.
What you end up with will look something like this:
For Richard Goering’s take on Singer’s keynote, click here.