Electronic Design Automation

EDA domain is purely in software. It is how software are used to help integrated circuit (IC) designers to design ICs. These software are referred to as EDA tools.

While the high level stage of the IC design requires a lot of creativity, but the low level and details part of IC design can be very repetitive, tedious and boring. The EDA tools help the designers in doing the repetitive and tedious tasks.

While in collage, students majoring in electronics learn basic electronic system design using small number of components called gates. Basic system can be construct with less than 10 gates. By their final year, the students will learn how to construct larger system which consists of up to hundreds of gates. This is not how it is done in the real world.

In the real world, a system such as the Intel Pentium 4 chip is constructed from 14 million gates. And with the current trend, it will not be long before we pass the one billion gates (in one chip) mark. This is so much different from what is thought in college. That is why in the real world, IC is design using different method.

On the very high level a system can be described using special languages, called hardware description language (HDL). Two most prominent HDLs are Verilog and VHDL. Verilog is widely used by designers in North America, and VHDL is widely by the european designers.

Instead of designing a system on gates level, using these languages a system is described at a higher level. Then a software is used to translate this high level description into gates level. This process is called synthesis, and the software is referred to as a synthesis tool. One line in HDL can be translated by the synthesis tool into few gates. Synthesis tool is one of the examples of EDA tool.

Even before a design using HDL is processed by a synthesis tool, there are other EDA tools that can be used by the designers to check if their HDL codes follow certain rules and guidelines. These EDA tools are called rule checker software. The HDL design is check again good circuit design guideline in order to catch possible error which can caused circuit failure when it is converted into gates.

Network of connected gates which are synthesized are called netlist.There are various verification EDA tools can be used to analyze a netlist. The tools can be a static tools which can look at a netlist and resolve it functionality mathematically. There are also dynamic tools such as simulators which look at how the circuit behave virtually when it is operating. Simulated input voltages and currents are fed into the netlist, and the simulated output is shown to the designer.

Using these verification tools, designers can verify that their design work – at least in controlled simulated environment. Final verification of the actual chip is still needed because the long and intricate manufacturing process can cause problem to a circuit which not counted in during a simulated verification.

Using various EDA tools,such as synthesis tools,rule checkers and verification tools today designers have been able to create a chip which contains multi million gates in it. Other than synthesis, there are also other EDA tools that help designers with other process of an IC design such as layout tools, and timing verification tools.