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  • Fractal at DAC 2015 – What’s new?

    I have been observing Fractal Technologies exhibiting at DAC year after year, and every year they have demonstrated good value added features in their tools for SoC and IP development. This year at 52nd DAC Fractal’s booth number is 1110. Earlier in this year Fractal had added a new ‘Cdiff’ feature in its flagship product Crossfire, for which I had blogged about their CTO, Johan Peeters’ views on this feature for accelerated quick check of an IP. Fractal also has quietly added some of the new industry standard formats into Crossfire increasing its versatility for industry wide IP and SoCs. Today, Crossfire is a semiconductor industry standard tool that accepts most of the IC design formats and provides numerous methods and techniques for checking and analyzing the correctness and quality of an IP or SoC design during any stage of its development. It supports all kinds of scripts, and provides interfaces for database query and reporting in several formats as desired.
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    To know more about Fractal’s secret sauces, new formats and features, and their plans for the upcoming DAC, I talked to Fractal’s co-founder Rene Donkers. Rene provided a great insight into Fractal’s sincerity in accommodating most of the semiconductor IC design industry formats and databases into Crossfire and helping customers accelerate their design turnaround time through correct-by-construction approach and high interoperability provided by Crossfire. Here is the conversation –

    Q: Rene, I see Crossfire increasingly being adopted in the industry. It’s natural because a common struggle faced by designers is working through so many formats. Crossfire provides a great relief there by automating things. But no one thought about developing this kind of tool. How did you get this idea?

    A: The idea for Crossfire (CF) came into existing from sending AE's onsite when working at our previous employer for support. The AE’s were just wasting so much time on getting the correct data to start doing what they came for in the first place that I thought there is a QA problem out there and that it is hard to solve.

    I realised there is a need for QA tools in the world. We noticed that CAD groups typically had proprietary solutions to solve the consistency problem for their specific design flows. But these scripts were far from comprehensive and always running behind as there was a continuing struggle to keep the scripting up-to-date with new developments.

    Q: In last December, you added some of the power formats (UPF and ANSYS APL) support in Crossfire. What’s the motivation behind them? Why they were not supported earlier?

    A: The need for new formats is driven by the users. UPF is there because all designs now deal so much with power issues that everyone starts using that. We needed to support it. This is all about priorities. We structure Fractal development around the needs of our current customers, addressing show-stopping issues first. Also when we take on a new format we rather choose to cover it completely rather than create incomplete versions which in the end do not serve our customers and increase our support load.

    Q: I see another format, AOCVM (Advanced On Chip Variability Model) supported in Crossfire now. Was there an specific demand for this support? What kind of SoC/IP vendors are using this?

    A: AOCVM is needed for nodes like 10nm and beyond because variability becomes a big issue when transistors are being built out of just a few atoms. Our most advanced users need to check this format because they need it more and more.

    Q: Why DSPF (Detailed Standard Parasitic Format) was not in the picture yet?

    A: DSPF has been there since long. It's not a new format in the sense that we parse it since long. We just created some new checks on this format, e.g. the sum of the capacitance nodes needs to add up to the number listed for that net.

    Q: I see many features added into Crossfire to investigate a design from multiple angles for its correctness and robustness. How are these benefiting customers? Do you have a quantitative figure; say in terms of time saving to tape-out?

    A: Users claim that the time they save can go up to a full design cycle since problems are discovered earlier. Using a tool like CF forcing standards makes everybody's work easier on a day to day basis adding up a lot of minutes day by day... Crossfire allows you to detect issues sooner. It's well known that sooner you detect an issue, lesser is the time it takes to fix. It's hard to quantify this benefit, but some of our customers were able to shave weeks off their development cycle.

    Q: How is the customer adoption rate for this tool, in US and outside US?

    A: We see users going into production within 6 months after introducing the tool. Most of the major IDMs and large fabless design houses are either Fractal customers, evaluating or are considering starting an evaluation.

    Q: What are the new things you are planning to showcase in DAC this year?

    A: You will see all of the above; new formats, new checks that are implemented in our tools. There are new ways and features added to our IP validation capabilities, which is an area where we see plenty of growth potential in the near future.

    This was a very fruitful conversation with Rene. I plan to visit Fractal booth and see these features and formats working in actual demo there. I will write more about the specific feature/format support when I have more information on these. Stay tuned!

    Pawan Kumar Fangaria
    Founder & President at