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Thread: Is it worth digging deeper in asynchronous?

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    Question Is it worth digging deeper in asynchronous?

    Hi! I have been working as a hardware developer (both F-End and B-End digital flow) for many years. My hobby is so-called self-timed (asynchronous, QDI) logic. Last 3 years I spent learning the ways to use Cadence and Synopsys synthesizers and B-End tools for async implementations, and I made some achievements in this field. But i doubt if it is worth to continue my research because of some disadvantages of asynchronous logic and impossibility to make some test chips by myself (due to high cost even for 100+nm ASIC). It becomes too expensive for just a hobby. So, I met the crossroads: whether to abandon this hobby entirely, or make it my primary profession.

    So, here is my question: What do you think, is there any future for the the async? Do any big companies provide R&D in the async field?

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    Blogger Bernard Murphy's Avatar
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    Check out eSilicon. They are advertising ~$7k/mm2 in I think a 45nm process. Not cheap, but not outrageous.

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    Blogger Bernard Murphy's Avatar
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    Also check out SyNAPSE from IBM. It seems unlikely that whole industries built around synchronous logic design will be replaced, but in emerging areas like neuromorphic computing it is possible that non-traditional design methods may may have special advantages to offer (low power especially).

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    Blogger Daniel Payne's Avatar
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    Asynchronous IC design is used quite a bit in SRAM and DRAM block designs, but not much at all in digital logic designs because of the challenges of running Static Timing Analysis tools which expect at least one clock and synchronous behavior.

    Sure, there's a future in asynchronous IC design, especially for security and ultra low-power designs.

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    Thanks for the answers!

    Bernard, even $7k is too expensive for just a hobby. The idea of neuro computing is very interesting. But last decades reveal no proof of usefulness of brain-like algorithms and their implementations. I heard about SyNAPSE, SpiNNaker and another neural networks in silicon. In my opinion they are nothing more than a pure scientific researches and has no impact on industry. But thank you anyway.

    Daniel, i fully agree that STA is a cornerstone of digital IC design because of tools. But i found the solution how to apply STA to async design. In a few words, i found a way, how to represent asynchronous circuits in a synchronous view. So STA is not a problem to async design at all.

    I heard about the only company which provides the async R&D nowadays - TiempoSecure. But it seems they failed because there have been no news on their project for about 2 years.

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    Intel has bought several companies selling products designed with asynchronous technology. Achronix, Fulcrum, Timeless Design Automation, etc.
    Using "synchronous" EDA tools to design asynchronous circuits was proven more than a decade ago with several startups trying to sell the concept. Nanochronous Logic, Elastix, etc.

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    pmat,
    I agree, there were many startups, who tried to use async logic. But where are they now?
    Big companies like Intel sometimes take over little startups just to obtain new technologies, not to use them. I heard about Intel's "elastic" circuits - asynchronous-like spin off from classical synchronous design. But I have never heard about practical usage of elastic circuits in Intel's processors. The same about Philips spin off "Handshake Solutions - HS". They made first commercially-successful asynchronous mc's based on ARM996 and i8051 architectures. And where is HS now? I may only conclude, that all async startups disappear for unknown reasons. And I am very curious about this reason.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bernard Murphy View Post
    Check out eSilicon. They are advertising ~$7k/mm2 in I think a 45nm process. Not cheap, but not outrageous.
    And if you go to higher nodes, 0.18um is still quite common, you can get 20-50 chips for a few k$. But for hobby projects I think you will in the end need crowdfunding (like Kickstarter) and thus convince other people you're so great they should help to pay for your chips.
    Strange thing is he seems to have money for the EDA tools though...
    Of course my fully subjective opinion is that europractice/imec will give you better service ; here you find schedule and price list.

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    Trust me ...
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    Torq, I participated in one of the several mid-00s asynchronous startups. Asynchronous technology is proven in the industry with test chips and extensive benchmarking. The problem has always been full solution automation (my opinion). Unfortunately, asynchronous design has always been a kind of black magic. Even the main asynchronous design conference is like a closed club. I challenge you to go through the papers in this conference. Same few labs around the world doing research for the last decades.
    Regarding HS, at some point it seemed they were going to take off. What they did was already remarkable. Personally i always found their methodology hard to use (for the average digital designer). You had to learn a new HDL and think in a totally different way.

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    Asynchronous design works better for high variability Silicon - sub 45nm the device-to-device spread is higher than the wafer-to-wafer, and it gets worse as things shrink.

    It helps if you have an asynchronous design methodology (instead of RTL), but the EDA companies haven't delivered one. I made an attempt - http://parallel.cc

    You also need simulation languages like Verilog-AMS that handle analog behavior better than plain old Verilog, so that you can verify the design works, but that hasn't been delivered by the EDA companies either - they might have the simulator, but they don't supply useful cell models. However, they haven't delivered a working verification flow for FD-SOI/DVFS either (which has similar requirements), so it might turn up if big IC design companies apply some pressure to get that working.

    You can probably use Xyce for simulation, but I'm not sure where you will get the modeling support.

    You might find support in the AI/deep-learning community since asynchronous techniques are ideal for implementing complex neural networks for the mobile market.

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