TuneChip : post-silicon tuning of dual-vdd designs

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Bijansky, Stephen

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As process technologies continue their rapid advancement, transistor features are shrinking to almost unimaginable sizes. Some dimensions can be measured at the atomic level. One consequence of these smaller devices is that they have become more susceptible to deviations from nominal than previous process nodes. To illustrate, as few as one hundred atoms determine how much voltage is needed to turn a transistor on and off. With over two billion transistors on a single chip, it is easy to imagine how even the tiniest of variations can affect many transistors throughout the entire chip. To compensate for these deviations, chip designers add margin to their designs. Even more margin is then added for increased safety. All of this margin leads to chips that are slower than a nominal design would be. At the other end of the spectrum, these same deviations might result in chips that are faster than needed. However, faster is not always better, as these faster chips usually require more power. Even worse, these deviations sometimes produce chips that are both slower and use more power than a nominal design. TuneChip is designed to mitigate the effects of these process variations by speeding up areas of a chip that need to run faster while at the same time reducing power in parts of a chip that are operating faster than needed. TuneChip attacks the variation problem by changing the voltage on small areas of the chip in response to the type of variation for that particular area. Since voltage has a strong relationship to the speed of a chip, TuneChip can increase the speed of areas that need to go faster. At the same time, TuneChip can decrease the speed of other areas on the chip that are too fast. Even more important than speed for current designs, though, is power. Changing the voltage has a quadratic relationship with the amount of power consumed by that device. Specifically, a 10% reduction in supply voltage yields a 20% reduction in energy. Moreover, it is not only battery powered devices that benefit from reduced energy consumption; some high performance designs are limited by how much they can cool the chip. Cost-effective cooling technology is not scaling at anywhere near the same rate as transistor geometries. Reducing a chip’s power consumption also reduces excess heat. In order to selectively change the voltage of specific areas of the design, TuneChip starts by partitioning the chip into smaller blocks. A dual voltage design style with two voltage grids spans the entire chip. In order to best react to variations particular to an individual chip, each block is assigned a supply voltage only after manufacturing. First, the chip is tested at high voltage and high power in order to verify the correct functionality of that chip. If the chip passes its functionality testing, each individual block is tested to determine how fast it is operating. Blocks that need to run faster are configured to connect to the high supply voltage grid, and blocks that are able to run slower are configured to connect to the low supply voltage grid. The configurable block supply voltage connection is accomplished with pmos pass transistors that act like switches. By having only one pmos pass transistor switch turned on at a time, each block has a choice of two supply voltages.