New technology to automate silicon chip debugging

November 14th, 2007 - 8:34 am ICT by admin  
FogClear, as the new method is called, uses puzzle-solving search algorithms to diagnose problems early on and automatically adjust the blueprint for the chip. It reduces parts of the process from days to hours.

According to Valeria Bertacco, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at the university “Almost all manufacturers must produce several prototypes of a given design before they attain a working chip.”

“Practically all complicated chips have bugs and finding all bugs is intractable,” adds Igor Markov, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

Both Bertacco and Markov say that in the current system, a chip design is first validated in simulations. Then a draft is cast in silicon, and this first prototype undergoes additional verification with more realistic applications.

If a bug is detected at this stage, an engineer must narrow down the cause of the problem and then craft a fix that does not disrupt the delicate balance of all other components of the system. This can take several days.

Engineers then produce new prototypes incorporating all the fixes. This process repeats itself until they arrive at a prototype that is free of bugs. For modern chips, the process of making sure a chip is free of bugs takes as much time as production.

On the other hand, FogClear automates this debugging process. The computer-aided design tool can catch subtle errors that several months of simulations would still miss. The new application searches for and finds the simplest way to fix a bug, the one that has the least impact on the working parts of the chip. The solution usually requires reconnecting certain wires, and does not affect transistors.

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. It has one of the largest engineering research budgets of any public university, at more than 130 million dollars annually. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center.

Michigan Engineering is raising 300 million dollars for capital projects and program support in these and other areas to continue fostering breakthrough scholarly advances, an unparalleled scope of student opportunities and contributions that improve the quality of life on an international scale. (ANI)

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