Electronic Design

Worry-Free IP: A Once Blurry Vision Coming Into Focus

Semiconductor intellectual property (IP) has remained in the headlines for years within the electronic design industry, and the promise of worry-free IP has been a lofty one. The bottom line is that "plug-and-play" IP is more of a dream than a reality.

One area that may be rising above the worry, and could be the catalyst driving much broader adoption, is pre-verified IP, or IP that is tested and proven. By incorporating pre-verified IP, you can "plan in" the IP. That will drastically lower the overall "risk" meter, which traditionally has been off the charts. Let's take a closer look.

Design IP comes in many forms, including soft or hard IP, and may be isolated within a block or used in full system. Verification IP features a similar range of packaging. There is a natural sliding scale of tradeoffs, or assumed risks, that must be addressed. The first thing to recognize is the relative costs and benefits that need to be considered when deciding between internally-developed soft IP or pre-packaged, third-party soft or hard IP.

Home-grown soft IP tends to be expensive because of high development costs. Such IP includes high levels of support, but it leaves you with more flexibility. Off-the-shelf hard IP can be costly and somewhat rigid, but if used correctly, may save tons of development time. The decision to go with either form of IP will jump-start your project by adding the protocol expertise and allow you to shift focus back onto your core business.

Verification IP presents special challenges because it may have been used to verify the design IP, to represent how the design IP can be used, or may be a complete environment for in-system use. Regardless of its form, knowing the relative maturity of verification IP is critical to analyzing costs and benefits.

One thing is clear: By choosing unverified IP, you may be making a bad career move or, worse yet, you may delay or damage the overall project or business goals.

Once you've decided on your IP usage strategy based on the design or system under development, it is critical for you to select verification IP that comes with a verification plan. In the past, teams of designers just relied on tape-out to decide if the IP was good or not. As mentioned earlier, this practice is no longer acceptable because the risks are too high. IP should come with a specification that you can test against as you progress throughout the process. The new "gold standard" for IP is to choose forms of it that can be tested and measured against a specification. Not unlike the design itself, IP needs to be "planned in," which allows it to be verified and measured against overall project progress. Utilizing tools and automation software that allow management of the entire verification process can assure you that whichever form of IP you choose, it will be verified and measured against the initial specification.

Your ultimate goal, then, should be IP that works within a verification plan and spits out metrics that match the specification as the design progresses through development. If you take advantage of today's systems, such as management software that has the ability to test, measure, react, and take the project to closure on schedule, you will have a much higher rate of success.

The time is now to focus on what truly adds value in the IP arena and alleviates overall IP development and implementation risks. No matter what type of IP you opt for, you'll compromise the value of the IP without a specification to measure against. And this will not help you to alleviate worries, meet your schedules, or allow you to focus on what truly matters, which is successful product delivery.

Steve Brown is Director of Marketing, Enterprise Verification Process Automation at Cadence Design Systems in San Jose, Calif. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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