Silicon compiler

A silicon compiler is a software system that takes a user's specifications and automatically generates an integrated circuit (IC). The process is sometimes referred to as hardware compilation.

Silicon compilation takes place in three major steps:

  • Convert a hardware-description language such as Verilog or VHDL into logic (typically in the form of a "netlist").
  • Place equivalent logic gates on the IC. Silicon compilers typically use standard-cell libraries so that they do not have to worry about the actual integrated-circuit layout and can focus on the placement.
  • Routing the standard cells together to form the desired logic.

Silicon compilation was first described in 1979 by David L. Johannsen, under the guidance of his thesis adviser, Carver Mead.[1]

Johannsen, Mead, and Edmund K. Cheng subsequently founded Silicon Compilers Inc. (SCI) in 1981.

Edmund Cheng designed an Ethernet Data Link Controller chip[2] in 1981–82 using structured design methodology, in order to drive the software and circuit-library development at SCI. The project went from concept to chip specification in 3 months, and from chip specification to tape-out in 5 months. Fabricated using a 3-micron NMOS process, the chip measured 50,600 square mils in die area, and was being marketed and manufactured in volume-production by 1983 under license from SCI.

John Wawrzynek at Caltech used some of the earliest silicon compilers in 1982 as part of the "Yet Another Processor Project" (YAPP).[3]

In 1983–84, the SCI team designed and implemented the data-path chip used in the MicroVAX in seven months. MicroVAX's data-path chip contains the entire 32-bit processor, except its microcode store and control-store sequencer, and contains 37,000 transistors. At the time, chips with similar levels of complexity required about 3 years to design and implement. Including those seven months, Digital Equipment Corporation completed the design and implementation of the MicroVAX within one year. [4]

See also

  • Electric (software)


  1. ^ Johannsen, D. L., "Bristle Blocks: A Silicon Compiler," Proceedings 16th Design Automation Conference, 310–313, June 1979.
  2. ^ Edmund K. Cheng, "The Design of an Ethernet Data Link Controller Chip", 26th IEEE Computer Society International Conference, COMPCON Spring 83, San Francisco, Feb 25-Mar 3, 1983, pp. 157–160.
  3. ^ "Silicon compilers and foundries will usher in user-designed VLSI" article by Carver A. Mead and George Lewicki. Caltech. "Electronics" magazine 1982 Aug 11.
  4. ^ "Silicon compiler lets systems engineers design their own VLSI chips", article by Stephen C. Johnson of Silicon Compilers Inc. in "Electronic Design" magazine, October 4, 1984, pp. 167–181.

External links

  • Definition from PC Magazine
  • Computer Aids for VLSI Design by Steven M. Rubin
  • Hardware compilation information
  • Hardware compilation mailing list