Supports VLSI at Michigan




Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has added some excitement among students of the VLSI program at U-M. The two core courses of the program, VLSI Design I and VLSI Design II, culminate in a final group project where teams of students design their own chip, and present their work to the class. They are now also competing for prize money thanks to the support of AMD. In addition, AMD donated cash and equipment to create a VLSI server pool that is accommodating 60 new Opteron 285 dual core processors.


1st AMD/Michigan Student Design Contest Initiated


AMD has partnered with U-M to sponsor a student design contest among the students of EECS 427: VLSI Design I and EECS 627: VLSI Design II. During the Winter 2006 term, the students’ final projects were judged by AMD engineers,  their professors, and the GSIs for the courses. The top designs were awarded cash prizes.


EECS 427: VLSI Design I


First place in VLSI Design I, taught by Prof. Dennis Sylvester, went to a team of four undergraduate computer engineering majors: Thomas Richards, Malav Parikh, Aulihan Teng, and David Fick. Their project, “16-bit ray tracing processor,” described a 5-stage pipeline microprocessor running at 348MHz in 0.25µm CMOS, and included a Wallace Tree fixed point multiplier, Kogge-Stone adder, and banked memories. Teng, who will be a graduate student at U-M in VLSI in the Fall, appreciated both the course and the added incentive of the contest, saying, “It was an amazing course that gave us a chance to create everything from scratch.  It really allowed us to create a design with no constraints.  The contest helped push us to our full potential in creating a processor that we are all extremely proud of.”


AMD engineers Srikanth Balaji and Keith Burwinkel were on hand to judge the final projects. Balaji took the course himself as a student just four years ago. He said, “The level of complexity and material coming out of the projects has considerably increased over the past few years. The students have presented outstanding concepts and ideas and are pushing the limits of innovation with the resources they have. Professors Sylvester and Blauuw have done a great job in promoting interest and providing guidance with regard to the VLSI curriculum.”


Burwinkel added, “I just want to thank the students for all their hard work, all competitors included.  They all did an amazing job and the level of work completed was not only tremendous, but showed the level of dedication and effort that companies like AMD are looking for.  These students set a high bar but the caliber of students coming out of Michigan will only ensure the quality of projects in the future.”


EECS 627: VLSI Design II


First place in VLSI Design II, taught by Prof. David Blaauw, went to four electrical engineering graduate students: Beth Isaksen, Phil Nevius, Sanjay Newton, and Vashist Vasanthakumar. Their project, “A Dual-Core Alpha Processor with Core-Level Voltage and Frequency Scaling,” is a dual-core processor using a subset of the Alpha ISA with a shared level-two cache (using the MESI protocol) and core-level voltage and frequency scaling. Second place went to electrical engineering graduate students Urmila Kamat and Kevin Klein, and undergraduate student Colin Sprinkle, for their project, “A Low Power Adiabatic MIPS Processor.” The projects were considered so close, equal prize money was awarded each student.


AMD engineers Anwar Kashem and Ryan Helfand were present to assist in the judging. Kashem said they were “very impressed at the level of difficulty of both of these projects and with how much the students were able to accomplish in the short time available to them.” Of the first project, “A Dual-Core Alpha Processor,” Kashem stated, "We were most impressed with the completeness of the project and the thorough attention to detail required to make a multi-core chip work with a shared L2 Cache. The choice of having a Shared L2 Cache forced the group to solve problems of synchronization across voltage and frequency domains that are not present in more naďve designs. This team should be commended for working well to solve architectural, circuit, verification, and physical design challenges in the design.”


Kashem called the project “A Low Power Adiabatic MIPS Processor,” “the most ambitious circuit project attempted in the contest. The team had to successfully build and verify their own cell library, and refactor their verilog so that the resulting circuits would work with their unique circuit topologies. The most impressive aspect of this project was that the verilog refactoring was mostly automated and resulted in a synthesizable design.” The team was not typical, in having only three members, with one being an undergraduate student, Colin Sprinkle. Yet fellow teammate Kamat praised Sprinkle's contribution, calling him the "undeclared team leader, whose knowledge of VLSI design and programming was one of the main reasons behind the success of our project." While the project was challenging, Kamat added, "the contest provided the additional impetus to perform better."


AMD Provides Computing Boost to VLSI Program


AMD is further supporting the VLSI program through its recent donation of $30K and 60 Opteron 285 dual core processors, which are supported by 10 servers, to create a first-class VLSI server pool to support VLSI design. Prof. Blaauw worked closely with AMD to coordinate the equipment purchases and final setup, which involved some alterations to the new servers. He said, “The servers worked without a hitch. They are great! The students tell us that we can do simulations in 30 minutes that used to take nearly a day. One of the teams has already used them to tape out the first chip.”


The VLSI program at U-M is founded on close ties with industry. Students report that they walk into their first jobs being familiar with the tools used, having used them in their coursework, which gives them a great advantage in their new careers. Students in the VLSI program also have a tradition of entering design contests. Before merging with the current international DAC/ISSCC Design Contest in 2000, students regularly participated in the national Student Design Contest that was initiated in 1981, and held primarily at the University of Michigan during the 1990s. AMD’s Balaji stated, “AMD expects that this partnership with Michigan VLSI will continue long into the future and strengthen every year. Go Blue!”