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This page was published on 27/02/2008
Published: 27/02/2008

   Pure sciences

Published: 27 February 2008  
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EU-funded project develops microchip specification language

An EU-funded project has developed a breakthrough microchip specification language that will enable the replacement of unclear English with a mathematically precise description of processor functions and design. The design of a microchip is a tricky task. First of all there is the question of functionality. Engineers describe, in minute detail and in plain English, what a particular microchip must do. This is an essential task detailing the chip specifications for each stage of the microchip creation process: design, fabrication and verification.

A microchip within an electronic circuit board © Shutterstock
A microchip within an electronic circuit board
© Shutterstock

At each development stage, engineers are obliged to turn the English specification list into a mathematically precise function set. The problem is that English is not a mathematically precise language. Therefore, problems of interpretation are very common. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that each stage uses different languages, with languages varying between microchip companies. This makes the whole process of microprocessor design hugely inefficient, costly and prone to error.

‘Before property specification language (PSL) there was no industry standard for describing microchip properties,’ explains Cindy Eisner, coordinator of the Property-based system design (PROSYD) project at the IBM Haifa Research Laboratory, Israel. ‘Now the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc] has adopted PSL as a standard specification language. So, we now have an industry standard for microprocessor design,’ she adds.

EU-funded PROSYD’s mission was first to create tools to deploy PSL for chip design, fabrication and verification. The project then used these tools to demonstrate PSL’s benefits. Finally, it sought to foster a revolution in chip design by promoting PSL as a new industry standard.

The project succeeded in its mission to reduce design errors by 50 percent and increase design efficiency. At the end of the two-year EUR 7 million project, PROSYD demonstrated a staggering reduction in design errors of up to 100 percent, while at the same time increasing design efficiency by 16 to 22 percent.

After designers become more familiar with the new toolset and language, an even more impressive gain in efficiency can be expected, suggested Dr Eisner.

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