The Price Is Right: Free Design Standard Expected to Be Adopted Speedily

A new electronic design automation standard for system-on-a-chip designers is now available

6 October 2010

System-on-a-chip designers are getting a shot in the arm thanks to a new electronic design automation standard now available for free. The IEEE 1685 Standard for IP-XACT, Standard Structure for Packaging, Integrating and Reusing IP Within Tool-Flows is on the new Get IEEE 1685 Program site. Approved in December, the standard helps ensure compatibility and shortens design time because designers can be assured that components from different vendors will work together. It was put on the Web site in June to make it more widely available and spur its deployment and implementation. So far, the standard has been downloaded nearly 500 times.

IP-XACT is an extensible markup language (XML) specification that defines and describes electronic components and their design. It allows blocks of intellectual property (IP) information in the highly automated elements found in electronic design automation (EDA) tools to be exchanged in a way that ensures blocks from multiple vendors are compatible and readable.

“The core of the standard is a way to describe hierarchical systems,” says IEEE Senior Member Gary Delp, principal at Silver Loon Systems of Rochester, Minn., and one of the architects of the IP-XACT standard. “It does not replace any languages, files, or formats, but it allows users to reference them in a consistent way so packages can be transferred between design groups working on the same project. When I say something in IP-XACT, all the tools in the design flow know what I’m saying and what I haven’t said, because the data semantics are defined.”

Adds IEEE Member Yatin Trivedi, director of standards and interoperability programs for Synopsys in Mountain View, Calif., “IP-XACT lets your IP run on tools that have never been tested against it, because the semantics are clean.”

The early version of the standard was developed by The SPIRIT Consortium, which became part of Accellera, in Napa, Calif., this year. Both are EDA organizations that develop language-based and intellectual property standards for electronic design. Accellera transferred its copyright to IEEE at the beginning of the standard’s development process in the hopes of facilitating the completion of a standard that would be widely accepted by industry.

What would become IEEE Std. 1685 got its start a few years ago at NXP Semiconductors, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. According to Delp, NXP was trying to automate system-on-chip production and was working with a large group producing hundreds of chips, with minor variations, and the designers had to start from scratch for each new design. NXP told its EDA and IP suppliers it wanted a way to describe the systems on its chips and reuse them without having to completely rebuild every chip each time. Mentor Graphics Corp. came up with the first solution, a design product called Platform Express, later incorporated into the IP-XACT standard.

Standards reduce the effort required to build tools and hence the time for a product to reach the marketplace but, Delp says, if the barrier—like the price—for getting those standards is too high, everyone invents their own thing. That was happening in the EDA field before IEEE Std. 1685 came along. To remove that barrier, Accellera offered to pay for all downloads of the standard without charging end users a fee.

Delp, who cochairs several Accellera committees, says that has allowed smaller companies to develop their own niches in the industry. “The more consistent we can be, thanks to IP-XACT, the more efficiently those small companies can grow,” he says.

“Through this collaboration, Accellera and IEEE are jointly addressing the real needs of our system-on-a-chip design community,” adds Shishpal Rawat, Accellera chair. “The free availability of this IP-focused standard underscores the need for Accellera to also be active in the dissemination of the standard and its eventual worldwide adoption.”

“We're trying to grow this system-on-a-chip industry as quickly as possible with respect to both design time and production rate,” Delp says. “IP-XACT is a huge part of the EDA industry’s future.”

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