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“Reality? project characterizes ARM926 for inherent variability at 32nm

Posted: 22 Sep 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM? 32nm? Reality?

An IMEC-led project, called ?Reality?, has conducted a characterization of an ARM926 core for the statistical variability that is inherent at the 32nm manufacturing process node. The research project, set up in 2008, has cost about $5.8 million.

�Reality? is short for "Reliable and variability tolerant system-on-a-chip design in more-moore technologies". It was set up in 2008 to address issues around design for variability, which becomes increasingly significant at geometries below 32nm.

The Reality project was led by research institute IMEC (Leuven, Belgium) and included ARM, STMicroelectronics, and the universities of Bologna, Glasgow and Katholiek University Leuven. The participants received about $3.8 million of tax-payers' funds from the European Commission.

The challenges taken on include benchmarking the impact of the latest 32nm CMOS process manufacturing variability at all abstraction levels, from device to system-on-a-chip level, while developing approaches to compensate for the negative impact in the design of final products.

The work includes the 3D simulation of the statistical variability associated with metal gate granularity and the corresponding metal work function variations have been carried out to clarify the magnitude of statistical variability in 32nm CMOS transistors with high-k/metal gate stack. At these dimensions the metal granularities can double the variability if the metal grain size becomes comparable to the transistor dimensions, the partners have concluded.

With regard to the ARM926 core the correlation between the timing, leakage and dynamic power has been demonstrated within die and on die-to-die variations.

Using the ARM core as a driver, Reality has confirmed that the SRAM components are responsible for more than the half of the variations on critical path timing. Hence, Statistical Timing Analysis (STA) flows that assume predictable timing response from these components may lead to over-optimistic conclusions. To address this Reality has created a statistical characterization flow including SRAM analysis.

With a novel flow integrating manufacturing variations and the ageing effects for mixed-signal circuits, the Reality project went further and developed a CAD environment that allows designers to make more accurate estimations and thus make circuits more energy and cost efficient, IMEC said in a statement.

Reality also evaluated the impact of process variation using software-level metrics and has demonstrated that process variability should be a concern for software writers as well as hardware designers. Variability will affect the performance of multi-core multimedia platforms making it hard to guarantee quality-of-service when running an application.

The partners have looked at different design techniques as a way of mitigating that performance variability, including Adaptive Body Biasing (ABB). Reality has shown that the use of ABB can speed up sections of a system-on-chip when, due to technology parameter variations, the manufactured product became too slow.

- Peter Clarke
EE Times

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