While many people are familiar with virtual machines and their benefit to software services, silicon virtualization is a relatively new concept with similar industry-changing ramifications on the semiconductor development. A large part of the consumer semiconductor industry has been driven by application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that enable mass-market devices such as televisions, disc players, smartphones, TV set-top boxes, and MP3 music players. As the name implies, ASICs perform only those functions that are necessary for the device’s proper operation. A well-crafted ASIC will focus on the functionality and quality that brings the greatest value to the end product.
Over the past decade, the complexity of ASICs continues to grow, and the chip design methodology has not kept up with the needs of the market. As a result, development costs have risen steeply and schedules have stretched out beyond the target windows. Consumer expectations have risen also as these devices become part of everyday life. Features that are not easily grasped by the average person are deemed useless, and the product’s value diminishes in the consumer’s eyes.
One of the ways to avoid these flaws of current development methodology is to prototype with programmable devices to emulate the chip or the entire system, but these real-time emulations only try to create the functionality of the device. They do not build a working model that exactly reproduces the entire device specification. Hence, flaws can appear in the device emulation that cause one or more costly turns of the silicon to get the final product to market.
In many cases, development schedule and cost constraints dictate that parts or all of the chip are simulated on a computer. While a computer can simulate a chip with a great degree of accuracy, the simulation process is very slow and the development team can test only a fraction of the test cases required to fully verify the device’s functionality. This raises the chance of errors in the design causing more costly design turns.
Marseille has developed a silicon virtualization platform that avoids all the pitfalls of current semiconductor design methodologies. The principal is similar to virtual machines for computers. In the case of virtual silicon, the goal is to make a virtual machine that strictly implements all the behaviors of the chip specification.
Through Marseille’s proprietary Virtual Silicon design methodology, it is possible to rapidly prototype products before committing to silicon. By fine tuning features and performance for a robust set of test conditions before committing the design, design flaws are discovered and eliminated prior to manufacturing silicon. This is what makes it possible for Marseille to build new products in a fraction of the time it would take to design the same products using traditional semiconductor development processes.