Dolphin Integration, a partner in the ENIAC THINGS2DO European FD-SOI project, showcased its achievements with PowerStudio™ during the project final review. Power Studio is Dolphin’s cutting-edge EDA tool for safe Power Regulation Networks implementation.
THINGS2DO, which stands for THIN but Great Silicon to Design Objects, was a 4-year, >€120 million EU project (85% industry-funded) with over 40 partners that just finished up at the end of 2017. The goal was to build a design & development ecosystem for FD-SOI. The project funded and supported the development of major FD SOI-based IPs and ASICs as well as EDA tools. (Another recent THINGS2DO announcement was Dream Chips’ ADAS SoC fabbed in GlobalFoundries’ 22FDX technology — read about that here.)
“Being involved in the THINGS2DO project was an opportunity for Dolphin Integration to start introducing FD-SOI in its automatic design methodologies,” said Frederic Poullet, Dolphin Integration’s CTO (read the press release here). “Dolphin Integration plans to offer a full suite of tools allowing its customers to implement right-on-first-pass Power Regulation Networks.”
The company notes that THINGS2DO also proved that low power consumption makes FD-SOI a perfect fit for IoT and automotive applications. For instance, dynamic control of threshold voltage can be used to compensate for temperature variations, and to drive speed improvements by 200% in ultra-low voltage applications.
Dolphin Integration provides energy efficient IPs and ASIC services dedicated to the low-power application market and supports its internal teams with tailor-made software tools. To address the specific needs of its customers in low-power design, Dolphin developed PowerStudio™, a global solution for the optimization of Power Regulation Networks (PRNet) to be used at an early stage of the SoC design process. In particular, it addresses new design challenges in noise and power supply integrity.
The first module of PowerStudio™ will also embed architecture optimization features at the schematic level, in terms of FoM-based cost optimization, mode management, margin cuts and integrability rate-based risk optimization.
Btw, Dolphin Integration Director Frederic Renoux gave an excellent great presentation at an SOI Consortium event in Nanjing, China last year, entitled Embedding power regulation & activity control networks for best SoC PPA.
Dolphin Integration joined Global foundries’ FDXcelerator™ Program last year (read the press release here) to streamline design in 22FDX®. “Our comprehensive and robust library of voltage regulators, power gating cells and logic modules, enables to deal cost-effectively and securely with power distribution, power gating, power monitoring and power control of any SoC design in 22FDX,” Michel Depeyrot, Dolphin Integration’s Chairman, said at the time. “As connected devices sleep most of their time, users of 22FDX also benefit from our ultra-low power and accurate oscillators to design an always-on RTC which consumes as little as 60 nA.”
ST Fellow Dr. Andreia Cathelin gave a terrific presentation at the recent CMP Annual Meeting. Now posted and freely available, Performance of Recent Outstanding 28nm FD-SOI Circuits Taped Out Through CMP highlighted eight examples – though she told ASN that she had easily over 50 from which to choose.
CMP is a Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) service organization in ICs, Photonic ICs and MEMS. They’ve been organizing prototyping and low volume production in cooperation with foundries for over 37 years. In partnership with ST since 1994, in the fall of 2012 they opened access to MPW runs in the 28nm FD-SOI process. More than 180 tape-outs have been fabricated since then using the process.
As Dr. Cathelin said, this lets ST show their industrial clients just how good the technology is. The chips she chose to cover in her presentation get “spectacular performance”, she said, especially for low-power or power-sensitive SoCs.
Here’s a quick recap of what she presented (some of which she co-authored), followed by some other SOI-related updates from the CMP meeting.
FD-SOI, said Dr. Cathelin, “…is unmatched for cost-sensitive markets requiring digital and Mixed Signal SoC integration and performance.” In the first dozen slides of her presentation, she gave the technical details on the advantages of FD-SOI in analog, RF/millimeter wave, Analog/Mixed-Signal and digital design. If you’re a designer, you’ll want to check those out.
Then she ran through eight great chips – all manufactured by ST on 28nm FD-SOI through CMP’s MPW services. Here they are. (You can click on the illustrations to see them in full screen.)
This chip was presented at ESSCIRC ’16 by a team from ISEN Lille, Professors Andreas Kaiser and Antoine Frappé (you can get the complete paper by I.Sourikopoulos et al on IEEE Xplore – click here.) As noted in the abstract, “Delay controllability has always been the major concern for the reliable implementation of circuits whose purpose is timing.” By leveraging body biasing in FD-SOI, this novel low-power design architecture for 60GHz receivers enables very high bandwidth together with fine-grain wide range delay flexibility, for implementing Delay Feedback Equalizer techniques in the Intermediate Frequency (IF) reception path. The results are state-of-the-art: ultra wide range, linear control, fs/mV sensitivity and energy efficient controllable delay cells.
Presented at RFIC ’17 by a team from the IMS Bordeaux lab, Professor Yann Deval and STMicroelectronics, this chip demonstrates the highest oscillation frequency attainable so far at the 28nm node, be it planar bulk or FD-SOI. (Click here to get the full paper by R. Guillaume et al from IEEE Xplore.) As noted in the abstract, solutions on silicon for mmW and sub-mmW applications have been demonstrated for high-speed wireless communications, compact medical and security imaging. The main challenges are for the signal generation at high frequencies, and this implementation demonstrates spectacular oscillation frequencies close to the transistor’s transition frequency (fT). In this chip, they used body bias tuning to optimize the phase noise, demonstrated very low on-wafer variability, and simulation methods that permit measurement prediction precision within 0.1%.
Extremely energy efficient SoCs are key for the IoT era – but SRAM gets very tricky at ultra-low voltages (ULV). Presented at ESSCIRC ’16 by B. Mohammadi et al (on IEEE Xplore here) from Professor Joachim Rodrigues’ team at the Lund University, this is a 128 kb ULV SRAM, based on a 7T bitcell. The minimum operating voltage VMIN is measured as just 240mV and the retention voltage is as low as 200mV. FD-SOI enabled them to overcome ULV performance and reliability challenges by letting the Lund U.-lead team selectively overdrive the bitline and wordline with a new single-cycle charge-pump. Plus they came up with a new scheme so it doesn’t need a sense amplifier, yet delivered 90MHz read speed at 300mV, dissipating 8.4 fJ/bit-access.
4. Matched Ultrasound Receiver in 28FDSOI
Presented at ISSCC ’17 (with an extended relative paper at JSSC ’17) by M-C Chen et al with Professor Boris Murmann’s team at Stanford, the full title of the paper about this chip is A Pixel Pitch-Matched Ultrasound Receiver for 3-D Photoacoustic Imaging With Integrated Delta-Sigma Beamformer in 28-nm UTBB FD-SOI. (Click here to get it on IEEE Xplore.) It’s a a proof-of-concept for a big ultrasound receiver: a “pixel pitch-matched readout chip for 3-D photoacoustic (PA) imaging.” PA is “…an emerging medical imaging modality based on optical excitation and acoustic detection.” It’s used in studying cancer progression in clinical research, for example. As noted in the paper abstract, “The overall subarray beamforming approach improves the area per channel by 7.4 times and the single-channel SNR by 8 dB compared to prior art with similar delay resolution and power dissipation.” One of the (many) advantages of FD-SOI in this context is for front-end signal conditioning in each pixel. This unique type of pixel pitch-matched architecture implementation is possible only in a 28nm (or less) node of an FD-SOI technology, as it is matched with the pitch sizing needed for the ultrasound transducers in order to generate signals for a 3-D reading.
5. SleepTalker – 28nm FDSOI ULV WSN Transmitter: RF-mixed signal-digital SoC
Presented at VLSI ’16 and JSSC ’17 by G. de Streel et al from Professor David Bol’s team at Université Catholique de Louvain la Neuve, the full title of the paper about this chip is SleepTalker: A ULV 802.15.4a IR-UWB Transmitter SoC in 28-nm FDSOI Achieving 14 pJ/b at 27 Mb/s With Channel Selection Based on Adaptive FBB and Digitally Programmable Pulse Shaping (get it on IEEE Xplore here). This chip tackles the IoT requirement for sensing functions that can operate in the ULV context. That means creating wireless sensor nodes (WSN) that can be powered on an energy harvesting power budget – and that’s a real challenge if you want to incorporate an RF component that can handle medium data rates (5-30 Mb/s) for vision or large distributed WSN networks. The energy efficiency has to be better than 100 pJ/b. To get there, the UCL-lead team used wide-range on-chip adaptive forward back biasing for “…threshold voltage reduction, PVT compensation, and tuning of both the carrier frequency and the output power. […] Operated at 0.55 V, it achieves a record energy efficiency of 14 pJ/b for the transmitter (TX) alone and 24 pJ/b for the complete SoC with embedded power management. The TX SoC occupies a core area of 0.93 mm2.”
This massive MIMO chip was presented at ISSCC ’17 by a team from Professors Liang Liu and Ove Edforss at the Lund University in a paper entitled 3.6 A 60pJ/b 300Mb/s 128×8 Massive MIMO precoder-detector in 28nm FD-SOI (H. Prabhu, et al; get it from IEEEE Xplore here). While Massive MIMO (MaMi) will be needed for next-gen communications, it can’t be achieved by just scaling MIMO – that would be too costly in terms of flexibility, area and power. As noted in the Lund U. team’s intro, “Algorithm optimizations and a highly flexible framework were evaluated on real measured channels. Extensive hardware time multiplexing lowered area cost, and leveraging on flexible FD-SOI body bias and clock gating resulted in an energy efficiency of 6.56nJ/QRD and 60pJ/b at 300Mb/s detection rate.”
7. ENVISION: A 0.26-to-10TOPS/W Subword-Parallel Dynamic-Voltage-Accuracy-Frequency-Scalable Convolutional Neural Network Processor in 28nm FDSOI
Today’s solutions for always-on visual recognition apps are an order of magnitude too power hungry for wearables. Running at 10’s to several 1OO’s of GOPS/W, they use classification algorithms called ConvNets, or Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN). The paper about this chip was presented at ISSCC ’17 by a team from professor Marian Verhelst at Katoliek Universiteit Leuven (B. Moons, et al, get it from IEEE Xplore here), and it changes everything. Leveraging FD-SOI and body-biasing, the KU Leuven team solved the power challenge with, “…the concept of hierarchical recognition processing, combined with the Envision platform: an energy-scalable ConvNet processor achieving efficiencies up to 10TOPS/W, while maintaining recognition rate and throughput. Envision hereby enables always-on visual recognition in wearable devices.”
As we learned at SOI Consortium FD-SOI Tutorial Day in SiValley last year, Professor Borivoje “Bora” Nikolic of UC Berkeley is known as one of the world’s top experts in body-biasing for digital logic (he and his team have designed more than ten chips in ST’s 28nm FD-SOI!) They presented the RISC-V chip here at ESSCIRC ’16 and JSSC ’17, in a paper entitled Sub-microsecond adaptive voltage scaling in a 28nm FD-SOI processor SoC (B.Keller, et al, on IEEE Xplore here). As they noted in the intro, a major challenge for mobile and IoT devices is that their workloads are highly variable, but they operate under very tight power budgets. If you apply adaptive voltage scaling (AVS), you can improve energy efficiency by scaling the voltage to match the workload. But in the current gen of SoCs, the AVS timescales of hundreds of microseconds is too slow. The chip the Berkeley team presented brought that down to sub-microseconds by aggressively applying body-biasing throughout the chip, including to workload measurement circuits and integrated power management units. The result is “… extremely fine-grained (<1μs) adaptive voltage scaling for mobile devices.” (BTW, they expand on some of the details in another paper published in 2017.) These design techniques are now taught at UC Berkeley, as this kind of implementation is the subject of a course in SoC design (including the RF part of transceivers); a first educational chip has already been taped-out and successfully measured. (BTW, Professor Nikolic will once again join Dr. Cathelin and other luminaries in teaching at the SOI Consortium’s FD-SOI Training Day in Silicon Valley, 27 April 2018 – click here for sign-up information.)
At the meeting, CMP also made a presentation on all their MPW offerings – you can get it here. On ST’s SOI (in addition to 28nm FD-SOI, of course), that includes the new 160nm SOIBCD8s: Bipolar-CMOS-DMOS Smart Power (for automotive sensor interface ICs, 3D ultrasound, MEMS & micro-mirror drivers); and 130nm H9-SOI-FEM: Front-End Module (for radio receiver/transceiver, cellular, WiFi, and automotive keyless systems).
CMP also provides tutorials that are used by institutions across the globe. A new update to the tutorial, RTL to GDS Digital Design Flow in 28nm FD-SOI Process is now available – you can see the presentation they did about that here. (It now includes LVS and DRC steps with Mentor/Calibre or Cadence/PVS.) Other services, like the 2-day, hands-on THINGS2DO FD-SOI training days at the end of March are always fully booked almost immediately, but don’t hesitate to inquire, as they’ll be adding more.
For some more examples of 28nm FD-SOI chips run through CMP over the years, see their website pages on Examples of Manufactured ICs. There are also some nice examples on pages 21 and 23 of their most recent annual report.
For those in the photonics world, CMP has teamed up with Leti to offer Si-310 PHMP2M, a 200mm CMOS SOI platform. CMP is cooperating with Tyndall for the photonics packaging – see that presentation here. Training kits and tutorials will be available in Q3 of this year.
And in partnership with MEMSCAP, CMP offers Multi-User MEMS Processes (aka MUMPs) for SOI-MEMS.
So lots of terrific SOI resources for CMP – check it out!
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Note: special thanks to Andreia Cathelin of ST and Kholdoun Torki of CMP for their help on this piece.
They’ve got initial silicon of Dream Chips’ ADAS SoC fabbed in GlobalFoundries’ 22FDX (FD-SOI) technology, and it’s got record power efficiency (read the full press release here). The chip offers high performance image acquisition and processing capabilities and supports AI / Neural Network (NN) vision operation with a total of 1 TOPS at 500 MHz on 4 parallel engines. With all functions including quad-core Arm® Cortex®-A53, Tensilica DSPs, and INVECAS’ LPDDR4-Interfaces activated, the SoC shows single digit power dissipation without the need for forced cooling, which is of significant importance for embedding in automotive environments.
Targeting automotive computer vision applications, the SoC was created in close cooperation with Arm, ArterisIP, Cadence, GF, and INVECAS as part of the European Commission’s ENIAC THINGS2DO reference development platform, where about 40 partners in Europe cooperated to propel the FDSOI-Design Ecosystem.
Of particular importance is the new and reduced power footprint of this SoC in 22FDX-technology from GF. AI/NN-operation for image recognition is available today, but most of the solutions need active cooling. Implementation of Dream Chip Technologies’ SoC on GF’s 22FDX platform demonstrated single digit Watt and cooling targets for designers managing power dissipation. If needed, the SoC bears the potential to increase the performance even further up to 2 TOPS at 1.0 GHz by applying GLOBALFOUNDRIES’s forward body-bias capabilities and other optimization techniques.
The jointly developed ADAS SoC platform from Dream Chip Technologies is available now. Part of GF’s FDXcelerator™ Partner Program, Dream Chip is the largest independent German Design Service company specialized in the development of large ASICs, FPGAs, embedded software and systems with a strong application focus on automotive vision systems (ADAS).
Would you like to better understand FDSOI-based chip design? If you’re in Silicon Valley, you’re in luck. On April 14th, the SOI Consortium is organizing a full day of FDSOI tutorials for chip designers. This is not a sales day. This is a learning day.
On the agenda are FD-SOI specific design techniques for: analog and RF integration (millimeter wave to high-speed wireline), ultra-low-power memories and microprocessor architecture, and finally energy-efficient digital and analog-mixed signal processing designs.
The courses will be given by top professors at top universities (including UC Berkeley, Stanford, U. Toronto and Lund). These folks not only know FDSOI inside and out, they’ve all spent many years working closely with industry, so they truly understand the challenges designers face. They’ve helped design real (and impressive) chips, and have stories to tell. (In fact, all of the chips they’ll be presenting were included in CMP’s multiproject wafer runs – click here if you want to see and read about some of them on CMP website.)
The FD-SOI Tutorial Day, which will be held in San Jose, will begin at 8am and run until 3pm. Each professor’s course will last one hour. Click here for registration information.
(The Tutorial Day follows the day after the annual SOI Silicon Valley Symposium in Santa Clara, which will be held on April 13th.)
Here’s a sneak peak at what the professors will be addressing during the FDSOI Tutorial Day.
If you know anything about FDSOI, you know ST’s been doing it longer than pretty much than anyone. Professor Cathelin will share her deep experience in designing ground-breaking chips.
She’ll start with a short overview of basic FDSOI design techniques and models, as well as the major analog and RF technology features of 28nm FDSOI technology. Then the focus shifts to the benefits of FD-SOI technology for analog/RF and millimeter-wave circuits, considering the full advantages of wide-voltage range tuning through body biasing. For each category of circuits (analog/RF and mmW), she’ll show concrete design examples such as an analog low-pass filter and a 60GHz Power Amplifier (an FDSOI-aware evolution of the one featured on the cover of Sedra/Smith’s Microelectronics Circuits 7th edition, which is probably on your bookshelf.) These will highlight the main design features specific to FD-SOI and offer silicon-proof of the resulting performance.
Particularly well-known for his work in millimeter wave and high-speed wireline design and modeling (which are central to IoT and 5G), Professor Voinigescu has worked with SOI-based technologies for over a decade. His course will cover how to efficiently use key features of FD-SOI CMOS technology in RF, mmW and broadband fiber-optic SoCs. He’ll first give an overview at the transistor level, presenting the impact of the back-gate bias on the measured I-V, transconductance, fT and fMAX characteristics. The maximum available power gain (MAG) of FDSOI MOSFETs will be compared with planar bulk CMOS and SiGe BiCMOS transistors through measurements up to 325 GHz.
Next, he’ll provide design examples including LNA, mixer, switches, CML logic and PA circuit topologies and layouts that make efficient use of the back-gate bias to overcome the limitations associated with the low breakdown voltage of sub-28nm CMOS technologies. Finally, he’ll look at a 60Gb/s large swing driver in 28nm FDSOI CMOS for a large extinction-ratio 44Gb/s SiPh MZM 3D-integrated module, as a practical demonstration of the unique capabilities of FDSOI technologies that cannot be realized in FinFET or planar bulk CMOS.
Having started his career as a digital ASIC process lead in the mobile group at Ericsson, Professor Rodrigues has a deep understanding of ultra-low power requirements. His tutorial will examine two different design strategies for ultra-low voltage (ULV) memories in 28nm FD-SOI.
For small storage capacities (below 4kb), he’ll cover the design of standard-cell based memories (SCM), which is based on a custom latch. Trade-offs for area cost, leakage power, access time, and access energy will be examined using different read logic styles. He’ll show how the full custom latch is seamlessly integrated in an RTL-GDSII design flow.
Next, he’ll cover the characteristics of a 28nm FD-SOI 128 kb ULV SRAM, based on a 7T bitcell with a single bitline. He’ll explain how the overall energy efficiency is enhanced by optimizations on all abstraction levels, from bitcell to macro integration. Degraded performance and reliability due to ULV operation is recovered by selectively overdriving the bitline and wordline with a new single-cycle charge-pump. A dedicated sense-amplifierless read architecture with a new address-decoding scheme delivers 90MHz read speed at 300mV, dissipating 8.4 fJ/bit-access. All performance data is silicon-proven.
Considered by his students at Berkeley as an “awesome” teacher, Professor Nikolic’s research activities include digital, analog and RF integrated circuit design and communications and signal processing systems. An expert in body-biasing, he’s now working on his 8th generation of energy-efficient SOCs. During the FDSOI tutorial, he’ll cover techniques specific to FDSOI design in detail, and present the design of a series of energy-efficient microprocessors. They are based on an open and free Berkeley RISC-V architecture and implement several techniques for operation in a very wide voltage range utilizing 28nm FDSOI. To enable agile dynamic voltage and frequency scaling with high energy efficiency, the designs feature an integrated switched-capacitor DC-DC converter. A custom-designed SRAM-based cache operates in a wide 0.45-1V supply range. Techniques that enable low-voltage SRAM operation include 8T cells, assist techniques and differential read.
If you’ve ever attended a talk by Professor Murmann, you know that he’s a really compelling speaker. His research interests are in the area of mixed-signal integrated circuit design, with special emphasis on data converters and sensor interfaces. In this course, he’ll look at how FD-SOI technology blends high integration density with outstanding analog device performance. In same-generation comparisons with bulk, he’ll review the specific advantages that FD-SOI brings to the design of mixed-signal blocks such as data converters and switched-capacitor blocks. Following the review of such general benchmarking data, he’ll show concrete design examples including an ultrasound interface circuit, a mixed-signal compute block, and a mixer-first RF front-end.
By Ronald M. Martino, Vice President, i.MX Applications Processor and Advanced Technology Adoption, NXP Semiconductors
At NXP, we’re very excited about the prospects for our new i.MX 7 and 8 series of applications processors, which we’re manufacturing on 28nm FD-SOI.
As noted in part 1 of this article series, the new i.MX 7 series, which leverages the 32-bit ARM v7-A core, is targeting the general embedded, e-reader, medical, wearable and IoT markets, where power efficiency is paramount. The i.MX 8 series leverages the 64-bit ARM v8-A series, targeting automotive applications, especially driver information systems, and well as high-performance general embedded and advanced graphics applications.
Choosing an FD-SOI solution gave our designers some specific tools that helped them to more easily and robustly deliver the features our customers are looking for. Here in part 2, we’ll look a little more deeply into the markets each of these chip families is targeting, and the role FD-SOI plays in helping us meet our specs.
Announced last June, the first members of our new 7 series — the i.MX 7Solo and i.MX 7Dual product families — will be hitting the market shortly. We’ve been shipping samples since last year, and the response has been tremendous. (You can read about the i.MX 7 IoT ecosystem we’re helping create for our customers here and support for wearable markets here.)
Our i.MX 7 customers are building products for power- and cost-sensitive markets. That of course includes a vast array of innovative IoT solutions and wearables, but also solutions for other parts of the embedded market like handheld point-of-sale (POS) and medical devices, smart home controls and industrial products. The i.MX 7 series also continues NXP’s industry leading support for the e-reader market via integration of an advanced, fourth-generation EPD controller.
For all these markets, excellent performance is very important, but both dynamic and static power figures are really key. When you’re creating a system with power efficient processing and low-power deep sleep modes, you enable a new tier of performance-on-demand, battery-operated devices that are lighter and cheaper, and in a virtuous cycle require smaller batteries.
The next members of the NXP i.MX 7 series combine ultra-low power (dynamically leveraging the reverse back biasing you can do with FD-SOI) and performance-on-demand architecture (boosted when needed with FD-SOI’s forward back-biasing). It’s the industry’s first general purpose microprocessor family to incorporate both the ARM® Cortex®-A7 and the ARM Cortex-M4 cores (customers can choose between single or dual A7 cores). These technologies, together with our new companion PF3000 power management IC, unleash the potential for dramatically innovative, secure and power efficient end-products for wearable computing and IoT applications.
The initial offering of i.MX 7 was designed (on 28nm bulk) with Cortex-A7 cores operating up to 1 GHz, while the Cortex-M4 core operates at up to 200 MHz. The Cortex-A7 and Cortex-M4 achieve processor core efficiency levels of 100 microWatts (μW) /MHz and 70 μW /MHz respectively.
A Low Power State Retention (LPSR), battery-saving mode can be improved by FD-SOI and consumes only 250 μW, representing a 3x improvement over our previous generation (on 40nm bulk). That’s almost 50% better than our competitors. Plus it minimizes wake up times without requiring Linux reboot, while supporting DDR self-refresh mode, GPIO wakeup, and memory state retention.
The next members of the i.MX 7 series, with FD-SOI dynamic back-biasing, enable different blocks to be reverse or forward back-biased on the fly to attain always-optimal power savings or performance. Additional power optimization features are enabled to achieve leadership power efficiency. We’ve optimized FD-SOI dynamic back-biasing to enable performance-on-demand architecture through which the i.MX 7 series meets the bursty, high-performance needs (this is when forward back-biasing kicks in) of running Linux, graphical user interfaces, high-security technologies like Elliptic Curve Cryptography, as well as wireless stacks or other high-bandwidth data transfers with one or multiple Cortex-A7 cores.
When high levels of processing are not needed, low-power modes kick in with reverse back biasing of the critical subsystems, and the ongoing, real-time work is carried on by the smaller, lower powered Cortex-M4.
All things considered, it’s perhaps no surprise that we expect i.MX 7 series solutions for cost-sensitive markets to be a key driver of our long-term i.MX portfolio expansion.
Our new i.MX 8 series portfolio, based on 28nm FD-SOI process technology, targets highly-advanced driver information systems and other multi-media intensive embedded applications. It incorporates those same key attributes as the i.MX 7, but extends them into realms the industry has never experienced. We believe the i.MX 8 series is poised to revolutionize interactivity in multimedia and display applications across all kinds of industries.
i.MX 8 incorporates innovations in the processor — complex graphics, vision, virtualization and safety to help revolutionize interactivity for a wide range of uses in many, many markets. The capabilities of this family is broad, but one of the places it’s going to be the biggest game-changer is in what is becoming the e-cockpit of your car.
For almost two decades, SOI has shone in the embedded processing world. In addition, NXP counts every major automotive maker in the world amongst its customers for our devices. Entering the new e-cockpit frontier, 28nm FD-SOI is the logical choice in making the i.MX 8 series meet and exceed the stringent requirements of top automotive OEMs for years to come.
The i.MX 8 series leverages ARM’s V8-A 64-bit architecture in a 10+ core complex that includes blocks of Cortex-A72s and Cortex-A53s. All the FD-SOI advantages discussed above for the i.MX 7 are also being brought to bear here (the power envelope for automotive designers being extremely strict). But in the hot and electrically noisy automotive environment, FD-SOI also plays an important role in ensuring robust operation.
The way we see it, your car’s multimedia centric e-cockpit will revolve around the i.MX 8, a single chip that drives all displays from infotainment to heads-up-displays (HUD) to instrument clusters. It’s optimized for the intelligent transfer of data and information management from multiple subsystems within the IC – as opposed to only delivering raw performance through one or two processing blocks.
For drivers and passengers alike, we’re looking at a very different world: one that includes the spread of advanced heads-up displays, intuitive gesture control, natural speech recognition, augmented reality, enhanced convenience and device connectivity. (I wrote a blog exploring the possibilities last fall – you can read it here.)
And of course, it will be secure from hackers, and fail-safe for critical systems.
From our customers’ standpoint, they can design a single hardware platform and scale it across multiple market segments with the unique approach to pin and software compatibility within the i.MX product families.
The i.MX family has been leveraged in over 35 million vehicles since it was first launched in vehicles in 2010. So with all these new features, and low-power and robust performance, we see a very bright future for FD-SOI and the i.MX 8 in automotive. It’s going to be a great ride.
By Ronald M. Martino, Vice President, i.MX Applications Processor and Advanced Technology Adoption, NXP Semiconductors
The latest generations of power efficient and full-featured applications processors in NXP’s very successful and broadly deployed i.MX platform are being manufactured on 28nm FD-SOI. The new i.MX 7 series leverages the 32-bit ARM v7-A core, targeting the general embedded, e-reader, medical, wearable and IoT markets, where power efficiency is paramount. The i.MX 8 series leverages the 64-bit ARM v8-A series, targeting automotive applications, especially driver information systems, as well as high-performance general embedded and advanced graphics applications.
Over 200 million i.MX SOCs have been shipped over six product generations since the i.MX line was first launched (by Freescale) in 2001. They’re in over 35 million vehicles today, are leaders in e-readers and pervasive in the general embedded space. But the landscape for the markets targeted by the i.MX 7 and i.MX 8 product lines are changing radically. While performance needs to be high, the real name of the game is power efficiency.
The bottom line in chip manufacturing is always cost. A move from 28nm HKMG to 14nm FinFET would entail up to a 50% cost increase. Would it be worth it? While FinFETs do boast impressive power-performance figures, for applications processors targeting IoT, embedded and automotive, we need to look beyond those figures, taking into account:
In fact, both NXP and the former Freescale have extremely deep SOI expertise. Freescale developed over 20 processors based on partially-depleted SOI over the last decade; and NXP, having pioneered SOI technology for high-voltage applications, has dozens of SOI-based product lines. So we all understand how SOI can help us strategically leverage power and performance. For us, FD-SOI is just the latest SOI technology, this time with a design flow almost identical to bulk, but on ultra-thin SOI wafers and some important additional perks like back-biasing.
When all the factors we care about for the new i.MX processor families are tallied up, FD-SOI comes out a clear winner for i.MX SOCs.
For our designers, here’s why FD-SOI is the right solution to the engineering challenges they faced in meeting evolving market needs.
In terms of power, you can lower the supply voltage (Vdd) – so you’re pulling less power from your energy source – and still get excellent performance. Add to that the dynamic back-biasing techniques (forward back-bias improves performance, while reverse back-bias reduces leakage) available with FD-SOI (but not with FinFETs), you get a very large dynamic operating range.
By dramatically reducing leakage, reverse back-biasing (RBB) gives you good power-performance at very low voltages and a wide range of temperatures. This is particularly important for IoT products, which will spend most of their time in very low-power standby mode followed by short bursts of performance-intense activity. We can meet the requirements for those high-performance instances with forward back-biasing (FBB) techniques. And because we can apply back-biasing dynamically, we can specify it to meet changing workload requirements on the fly. [Editor’s note: click here and here for helpful ASN articles with descriptions and discussions of back-biasing, which is also sometimes called body-biasing.]
Devices for IoT also have major analog and RF elements, which do not scale nearly so well as the digital parts of the chip. Furthermore analog and RF elements are very sensitive to voltage variations. It is important that the RF and analog blocks of the chip are not affected by the digital parts of a chip, which undergo strong, sudden signal switching. The major concerns for our analog/RF designers include gain, matching, variability, noise, power dissipation, and resistance. Traditionally they’ve used specialized techniques, but FD-SOI makes their job much easier and results in superior analog performance.
In terms of RF, FD-SOI greatly simplifies the integration of RF blocks for WiFi, Bluetooth or Zigbee, for example, into an SOC.
Soft error rates (SER)* are another important consideration, especially as the size and density of SOC memory arrays keep increasing. Bulk technology gets worse SER results with each technology node, while FD-SOI provides ever better SER reliability with each geometry shrink. In fact, 28nm FD-SOI provides 10 to 100 times better immunity to soft-errors than its bulk counterpart.
Our process development strategy has always been to leverage foundry standard technology and adapt it for our targeted applications, with a focus on differentiating technologies for performance and features. We typically reuse about 80% of our technology platform, and own our intellectual property (IP). Looking at the ease of porting existing platform technology and IP, and analyzing die size vs. die cost, again, FD-SOI came out the clear choice.
In terms of manufacturing, FD-SOI is a lower-risk solution. Integration is simpler, and turnaround time (TAT) is much faster. 28nm FD-SOI is a planar technology, so it’s lower complexity and extends our 28nm installed expertise base. Throughout the design cycle, we’ve worked closely with our foundry partner, Samsung. They provided outstanding support, and very quickly reached excellent yield levels, which is of course paramount for the rapid ramp we anticipate on these products.
In the second part of this article, we’ll take a look at the new i.MX product lines, and why FD-SOI is helping us make those game-changing plays for specific markets.
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* Soft errors occur when alpha or neutron particles hit memory cells and change their state, giving an incorrect read. These particles can either come from cosmic rays, or when radioactive atoms are released into the chips as materials decay.
By Duncan Bremner, CTO SureCore Limited
Editor’s note: sureCore just announced availability of its 28nm FD-SOI memory compiler (press release here), which supports the company’s low-power, Single and Dual Port SRAM IP. Here, the company’s CTO explains why this IP is getting such impressive results.
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Recently, sureCore announced results from a 28nm FD-SOI test chip that showed dynamic power savings exceeding 75% and static power cuts up to 35% (when compared against a number of current commercial offerings), while only incurring a 5-10% area penalty for its ultra-low power SRAM IP.
And while this data is easily substantiated as shown in Figure 1, the sceptical industry pundits have raised questions that fall into two camps: (a) That can’t be done; or (b) How did they manage that? In answer to both of these questions, here’s a quick look at the history and engineering strategy that we adopted to deliver these results.
Looking back to the early days of sureCore, SRAM fascinated us because despite many process iterations, the SRAM in use today bears a striking resemblance to the SRAM architectures that existed in the ’70s and ’80s. We concluded that no one had really taken a “blank-sheet-of-paper” look at the architecture for over 40 years. Recognising the growing importance of power efficiency for SoCs targeting forward-looking applications such as wearables, IoT, and other mobile devices, we examined power consumption in detail, and began by investigating how we could reduce SRAM power to a level attractive to the next generation of power critical, SoC designers.
Our starting point differed significantly from the traditional approach to SRAM R&D that typically starts at the bit cell. We recognised that the basic bit cell is fixed by the foundry; it’s a piece of electronics that is carefully optimised for fabrication. Modern bit cells are designed by the foundries who tend to put an emphasis on the broadest possible manufacturability drivers; yield and faster-time-to-volume as opposed to more performance-centric metrics. Their focus is on the front-end process optimisation, area and yield.
The basic rule of R&D fabless foundry engagement has been, “use the storage array – you won’t get a better packing density.” Consequently, the application use model had become separated from the technology — ‘faster or cheaper’ became the industry’s mantra instead of ‘faster and better’. This resulted in SRAM design teams focusing on how to build more sensitive read amplifiers to detect the signals, and better write amplifiers to drive the signal on to the bit cell. Not much time was spent looking at the fundamental architecture and asking: “Is this the best way?”
sureCore decided to take a more holistic view and stood back from the whole problem. We started with a clean sheet of paper and asked, “Where does the power go when you start storing data on SRAM?”
We discovered that a lot of the power is consumed hauling parasitic capacitance around. Our design strategy was therefore very simple; we developed a system architecture to optimize power while still retaining the area advantages of the standard foundry bit cell.
Simply stated, we architected the internal block architecture of SRAM by splitting the read amplifier function into a local and global read amplifier, thus dividing the capacitive load from the word-line, only driving the areas being addressed and not the whole array. This resulted in significant dynamic power savings during the read cycle. In a similar fashion, we reduced the write cycle power by a similar amount. Whilst hierarchical solutions are not new, the sureCore “secret sauce” is at circuit level developed by our engineering teams leading to not only significant power savings, but also comparable performance levels.
Our “blank sheet” approach delved deep; right down to the fundamental device physics level. Our strategic partners, Gold Standard Simulations — recognised world leaders in modelling devices at the atomic level and experts in nano-scale process nodes, helped us to understand the behaviour and limitations of processes at nodes below 28nm at a device level and bit cell level. Combining this fundamental device understanding with excellent circuit design and system analysis skills, we’ve identified where existing SRAM solutions waste power, and architected our solution to avoid this; we deliver power savings without the added complexity of write and read-assist.
At the outset, we determined it was important that our IP be process-independent. sureCore IP is based on architecture and circuit techniques rather than a reliance on process features. The result of this is technology that can reduce power in standard bulk CMOS, but is equally applicable to newer FinFET or FD-SOI processes and across all geometries, even down to 16nm and below. We believe our approach is paying off and, because we insisted in retaining the foundry optimised bit cell, sureCore’s technology can be retrofitted into existing designs enabling extended product life cycles.
This is our basic technology story… a start-up deciding to take a fresh look at an old technology and dramatically improving power performance over 75% compared with existing solutions. This is a new approach to SRAM power consumption for power sensitive applications and it delivers tangible battery life benefits to both the end user and the FD-SOI designers. Today’s FD-SOI technology is optimised for low power applications, bringing extended battery life to the nascent markets of wearables and IoT.
From wafers to apps, Leti has been the moving force behind all things SOI for over 30 years. Now they’re the powerhouse behind the FD-SOI phenomenon. CEO Marie-Noelle Semeria shares her insights here in part 2 of this exclusive ASN interview as to what Leti’s doing to drive the ecosystem forward. (In part 1, she shared her insights into what makes Leti tick – if you missed it, you can click here to read it now.)
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ASN: In which areas do you see SOI giving designers an edge?
MS: There is an advantage in terms of cost and power, so it’s attractive for IoT, for automotive, and more and more for medical devices. We see the first products in networks, in imaging, in RF. The flexibility of the design, thanks to the back bias gives another asset in terms of integration and cost. We consider that 28nm FD-SOI and 22nm FD-SOI are the IoT platforms, enabling many functions required by IoT applications. It’s a very exciting period for designers, for product managers, for start-ups. You can imagine new applications, new designs, and take advantage of engineered substrates combined with planar FD-SOI CMOS technology and 3D integration strategies to explore new frontiers.
ASN: What is Leti doing moving forward?
MS: Our commitment is to create value for our partners. So what is key for SOI now is to extend the ecosystem and to catch the IoT wave, especially for automotives, manufacturing and wearables. That’s why we launched the Silicon Impulse Initiative (SII) as a single entry gate providing access to FD-SOI IP and technology. SII is a consortium, gathering Soitec, ST, CMP, Dolphin and others, in order to beef up the EDA and design ecosystems. Silicon Impulse offers multi-project wafer runs (MPWs) with ST and GF as foundries based on a full portfolio of IPs. SII is setting up the ecosystem to make FD-SOI technology available for all the designers who have IP in bulk or in FinFET. To reach designers, we have set up events close to international conferences like DAC and VLSI, and we promote SII together with the SOI Consortium in San Francisco, Taiwan, Shanghai, Dresden….
The second way we are accelerating the deployment of FD-SOI technology in manufacturing is to provide our expertise to the companies who made the choice for FD-SOI technology. Leti assignees are working in Crolles with ST and in Dresden with GF to support the development of the technology and of specific IP such as back bias IP. The design center located in the Minatec premises is also open to designers who want to experiment with FD-SOI technology and have access to proof in silicon.
ASN: What role does Leti play in the SOI roadmap?
MS: The role of Leti is to pioneer the technology, to extend the ecosystem and to demonstrate in products the powerful ability of FD-SOI to impact new applications. Leti pioneered FD-SOI technology about 20 years ago. Soitec is a start-up of Leti, as well as SOISIC (which was acquired by ARM) in design. We developed the technology with ST, partnering with IBM, TI and universities. Now we’ve opened the ecosystem with GlobalFoundries and are considering new players. With the Silicon Impulse Initiative we are going a step further to open the technology to designers in the framework of our design center. We have had a pioneering role. Now we have to play a catalyst role in order to channel new customers toward FD-SOI technology and to enable new products.
Leti demonstrates that the FD-SOI roadmap can be expanded up to 7nm with huge performance taking advantage of the back biasing. Leti’s role is to transform the present window into a wide route for numerous applications requiring multi-node generations of technologies.
ASN: Is Silicon Impulse strictly FD-SOI, or do you have photonics, MEMS, RF-SOI…?
MS: We started with FD-SOI at 28nm because it’s available: it’s here. But as soon as the full EDA-IP ecosystem is set-up, this will be open for sure to all the emerging technologies: embedded memory (RRAM, PCM,MRAM…), 3D integration (CoolCube, Cu/Cu), imaging, photonics, sensors, RF, neuromorphic technology, quantum systems….which are developed in Leti. Having access to a full capability of demonstrations in a world class innovation ecosystem backed by a semiconductor foundry and a global IP portfolio leverages the value of SII.
ASN: Can you tell us about the arrangement with GlobalFoundries for 22nm FD-SOI? How did that evolve, and what does it mean for the ecosystem?
MS: Yes, last month we announced that we have joined GlobalFoundries’ GlobalSolutions ecosystem as an ASIC provider, specifically to support their 22FDX™ technology platform. We have worked with GlobalFoundries over the years in the frame of the IBM Alliance pre-T0 program..
In joining the GlobalSolutions ecosystem, Leti’s goal is to ensure that GF’s customers – chip designers – get the very best service from FD-SOI design conception through high-volume production. This has been in the works for a while. At the beginning of 2015, we sent a team to GlobalFoundries’ Fab 1 in Dresden to support ramp up of the platform. And now as an ecosystem partner, Leti will help their customers with circuit-design IP, including fully leveraging the back-bias feature, which will give them exceptional performance at very low voltages with low leakage.
We will be able to help a broad range of designers use all the strengths that FD-SOI brings to the table in terms of ultra-low-power and high performance, especially in 22nm IoT and mobile devices. It really is a win-win situation, in that both our customer bases will get increased access to both our respective technologies and expertise. It’s an excellent example of Leti’s global strategy.
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(This concludes part 2 of 2 in this Leti interview series. In part 1, Marie Semeria shared her insights into what makes Leti tick – if you missed it, you can click here to read it now.)
From wafers to apps, Leti has been the moving force behind all things SOI for over 30 years. Now they’re the powerhouse behind the FD-SOI phenomenon. CEO Marie Semeria shares her insights here in part 1 of this exclusive ASN interview as to what makes Leti tick. In part 2, we’ll talk about Leti’s new projects and partnerships.
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Advanced Substrate News (ASN): You’ve been CEO of Leti for a little over a year now, but those outside the Grenoble ecosystem are just getting to know you. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to Leti?
Marie Semeria (MS): My background is in physics. I did my PhD at Leti on magnetic memories. Then I joined Sagem in the framework of a technology transfer, followed by a start-up in field-emission display (FED). When I came back to Leti, I spent more than 15 years in different positions, mainly involved in microelectronics. This work included setting up the cooperation with the IBM alliance and technology program coordination, as well as preparing Leti’s future and setting up long-term projects and partnerships.
Then three years ago the CEO at CEA Tech asked me to join that organization. CEA Tech is the technology research unit of the CEA (the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission). Leti is one of CEA Tech’s three institutes, which together are developing a broad portfolio of technologies for information/communications technologies, energy, and healthcare. So I extended what I did in Leti covering the whole domain of expertise of CEA Tech. Finally, in October 2014, I took over from outgoing Leti CEO Laurent Malier.
ASN: Can you tell us about Leti’s structure and budget? How are you different from the other big European research organizations?
MS: Leti is a leading-edge research institute. Our mission is to innovate: with industry, for industry. So 83% of our budget comes from partnerships funded by industry, or partially funded by industry and supported by the European Commission or local or national authorities. The other 17% is a grant from CEA. Our commitment is to create value. And so the business model of Leti is value-centric – value for its partners.
ASN: How do you decide what you’re going to work on? Is it your customers?
MS: Leti focuses its work on technological research. We are not an academic lab. We work closely with industry. So we share our roadmap with our industrial partners, which gives us feedback on their expectations, their visions, and helps us anticipate their needs.
On another side, we have to be innovative ourselves, so we are very open to what is going on in the scientific world, sensing new trends, analyzing migrations, monitoring the emergence of new concepts. Therefore, part of Leti’s research is fed by partnerships with academic labs. And there are great opportunities to work with two divisions of CEA related to fundamental research in materials science and in life science. We have a partnership with Caltech in NEMS. We have partnerships with MIT, and with Berkeley in FD-SOI design. It is key for Leti to build on the relationships with the world’s leading international technological universities. We’re fully involved with the very active Grenoble ecosystem. There are great leveraging opportunities within MINATEC and MINALOGIC, with Grenoble-Alpes University and with the INPG engineering school in math and physics. The cooperation with the researchers at LTM is key in microelectronics and we will work with new teams at INRIA who will join us in the new software and design center located in MINATEC.
ASN: How much Leti activity is based on SOI?
MS: SOI is the differentiator for Leti in nanoelectronics. We pioneered the technology 30 years ago and boosted the diffusion and the adoption of the technology worldwide. This year we launched a new initiative named Silicon Impulse together with our partners ST, CMP, and Dolphin…to provide access to the FD-SOI technology and IP to designers. I would say about 50% of the resources of Leti is related to nano: nanoelectronics, nanosystems, nanopower, 3D integration, packaging, with silicon at the core.
All that we have developed in terms of CMOS, embedded memory, RF, photonics and MEMS, is based on SOI. So we’ve developed a complete, fully-depleted (FD) SOI platform for the Internet of Things, because you’ll need all these functions. Really, all the microelectronics activity of Leti has been based on SOI for a while now. It’s why today we continue to pioneer the technology. For example, we develop the substrates and we assess their performance with Soitec in the framework of a joint lab, which is a new strategy for both of us. We work with ST, with GlobalFoundries, to transfer the technology, to prove the substrate in their products. Now we are in a key position as a leading, innovating institute to turn our disruptive technology into products. So it’s really a turning point for us.
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Here’s a quick “official” summary of Leti:
As one of three advanced-research institutes within the CEA Technological Research Division, CEA Tech-Leti serves as a bridge between basic research and production of micro- and nanotechnologies that improve the lives of people around the world. It is committed to creating innovation and transferring it to industry. Backed by its portfolio of 2,800 patents, Leti partners with large industrials, SMEs and startups to tailor advanced solutions that strengthen their competitive positions. It has launched 54 startups. Its 8,500m² of new-generation cleanroom space feature 200mm and 300mm wafer processing of micro and nano solutions for applications ranging from space to smart devices. With a staff of more than 1,800, Leti is based in Grenoble, France, and has offices in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Tokyo. Learn more at www.leti.fr. Follow them on Twitter @CEA_Leti and on LinkedIn.
Click here to read part 2 of this exclusive interview.
Cadence has announced that its digital and signoff tools are now enabled for the current version of the GLOBALFOUNDRIES® 22FDX™ platform reference flow (see press release here). GF has qualified these tools for the 22FDX reference flow to provide customers with the design flexibility of software-controlled body bias to manage power, performance and leakage needed to create next-generation chips for mainstream mobile, IoT and consumer apps. In addition, the ARM® Cortex®-A17 processor was used to validate the implementation flow with the Cadence® Innovus™ Implementation System and Genus™ Synthesis Solution.
Cadence collaborated with GF on the development of the PDK for the 22FDX platform. The Cadence digital implementation tools support the capability of forward and reverse body bias (FBB/RBB) to optimize the performance/power tradeoffs, implant-aware and continuous diffusion-aware placement, tap insertion and body bias network connectivity according to high voltage rules. The digital implementation tools also support double-patterning aware parasitic extraction (PEX) and design for manufacturing (DFM).
“The 22FDX reference flow can enable customers to achieve real-time tradeoff between static power, dynamic power and performance to create innovative products,” said Pankaj Mayor, GF Biz Dev VP.