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March 20, 2008 Doc. 0391-6K-090-B  Solving PCI Express Design Challenges in an SoC ASIC White Paper ChipX, Inc. [email protected] A B S T R A C T This paper describes the challenges of developing a highly integrated SoC ASIC with a PCI Express interface. Tips based on experience are presented for critical design steps, including sourcing the PHY, selecting the proper ASIC technology, placement and routing, characterization, board integration, and test.

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  • 8/9/2019 Solving PCIe Challenges WP-0391B


    March 20, 2008Doc. 0391-6K-090-B

    Solving PCI Express DesignChallenges in an SoC ASIC

    White Paper

    ChipX, [email protected]

    A B S T R A C T This paper describes the challenges of

    developing a highly integrated SoC ASIC with a PCI Express

    interface. Tips based on experience are presented for critical

    design steps, including sourcing the PHY, selecting the

    proper ASIC technology, placement and routing,

    characterization, board integration, and test.

    mailto:[email protected]mailto:[email protected]
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    Developing a highly integrated SoC ASIC with a PCI Express interface presents many

    challenges. The process begins with sourcing a high quality PHY core that will workreliably in production and a link layer controller that is compatible with and worksseamlessly with the PHY. The next step involves selecting the ideal ASIC technologyfrom a range of options that span Standard Cell, Embedded Array, and Structured ASIC.The proper geometry that will deliver the desired performance is part of this selectioncriteria. Whether you are doing your own placement and routing or relying on an ASICpartner, you must ensure that placement is done in an optimal manner that isolates thecore from noise. In addition, the proper EDA tools must be used to check for signalintegrity and best performance. Minimizing risk throughout all project steps should be ofparamount concern, because anything that goes wrong will be very costly in terms oflost time and expense. Consider whether you need to start early software development.Or do you need to develop your prototype and system boards? What PCB design

    guidelines should you use? Should you do any characterization of the chip and/or PCIExpress interface, or should you rely on your IP and/or ASIC partner? How much testingis enough?

    This paper describes all the PCI Express design challenges in detail and answers thequestions raised. It provides information on symptoms of potential trouble, various waysto solve frequently seen problems, and ways to minimize risks and costs during thedesign and test process.

    Technology Selection

    ProcessOne key decision to make early in a silicon development flow involves selecting themanufacturing process technology. Traditionally, process selection was driven mainly bythe anticipated sales volume. For high volume production, an advanced deep submicronprocess is typically preferred. The high NRE cost of using an advanced process is

    justified at high volumes, because the process yields a denser die size with a lowerdevice cost. Selecting a more stable mainstream technology involves lower NRE costs,but typically leads to larger die size.

    When dealing with a complex high speed interface such as PCIe, it is important toconsider additional parameters, such as IP availability, IP integration experience, IPproven tape outs, and process stability. It is wise to favor the process node in which the

    IP was proven.

    ASIC TypeThe next step involves selecting one of the available ASIC technologies:

    Standard Cell ASIC

    Structured ASIC

    Embedded Array

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    Each architecture has its own advantages and disadvantages when dealing with aninterface as complex as PCIe.

    On one hand, Standard Cell ASIC provides the most flexible solution that fits any givendesign with maximum silicon utilization. On the other hand, when integrating a PCIehard IP into the chip, a Standard Cell implementation requires special attention whilecreating a power structure to power the IP and when designing a package supportingthe high speed lanes.

    Structured ASIC has a great advantage when integrating PCIe in terms of risks andreusewith a restriction that a design has to fit the available array. The array, includingthe PCIe, is already implemented following integration guidelines. Moreover, a provensilicon test chip demonstrating the PCIe performance is typically available. A packagesupporting the high speed lanes of the PCIe is already designed, available, and proven.WIth Structured ASIC, you know what you are getting.

    Embedded Array provides the flexibility of the Standard Cell ASIC and the ability toreuse the same array if the design iterates, with no need to repeat integration efforts.

    IP Selection

    IP selection, especially regarding the high speed PHY, has long term implications,because a wrong choice here could translate into some very undesirableconsequences, such as:

    Longer time-to-market of the product and sometimes, of a whole product family ifit uses the same PHY/IP

    Potential compliance issues that could impact product release

    Potential yield and performance issues.

    While selecting the IP (PHY), check the following, as a minimum:

    Maturity of the IPWas it proven on silicon using the desired manufacturingprocess? Was it used by another customer?

    Characterization reportsRead these carefully, and observe the conditions inwhich the measurements were taken.

    Compatibility with different controllers, resulting in proved system solutions

    Compliance testing achieved with the specific IP

    Power consumption data for the core part and for the analog part, separately.

    Availability of the PHY I/O simulation modelRequest it and apply the specificsystem parameters, examining the resulting performance.

    Built-in production testing utilities, especially regarding the high speed part. Checkfor BIST circuitry or PRBS generation.

    Silicon area of the IPThe hard IP part should include I/O pads and a sizeestimate of complementary soft parts of the IP.

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    Number of metal layers used in the implementation, and width of the top metallayers. Both must fit with the desired application.

    ESD protection may be part of the I/O structure; or a detailed description of ESD

    protection is required.

    I/O pad pitch and structure (inline or staggered)

    DRC clean of the IP according to the targeted manufacturing process, using thelatest rules from the fab

    Check if Library views such as:.lib, .lef, .cdl, are available and meet the target EDAtool requirements.


    Package DesignThe package is an important element in the chain of the overall product design, and assuch, it affects the PHY performance. The key factors to be supervised and managedregarding package design include:

    High speed signal handlingMust be designed to meet the required impedance(differential 100 )

    The differential skew for each pair of high speed signals

    Noise isolation of the high speed signals (both Tx and Rx)

    PHY supply power, ground inductance, and noise isolation

    Ball mapping.

    Ball mapping has a significant impact on the board layout design, and therefore, on thesystem level performance of PCI Express electrical properties.

    The high speed differential pair routing on the board is affected by the package ballallocation, therefore, careful mapping provides several benefits:

    Mapping allows routing each pair for easier differential matching and enablesrouting that is as straightforward as possible1.

    Mapping prevents Tx signals from potentially harming Rx signals, which canhappen if these signals are routed too closely together. The same applies to clocksignals.

    Mapping helps achieve the capability of placing decoupling capacitors between

    power and ground balls in the high speed signals area (improving decouplingquality without the penalty of having those capacitors block routing of the highspeed signals on the board). This is especially relevant in cases where high speedsignals are routed on the Print Side (PS) of the board. See Figure 1.

    1. Receiver response depends, among other parameters, on the differential matching of each pair,end-to-end, both in length and in interconnect pattern.

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    Figure 1 Routing and Placement of Decoupling Capacitor Pads for High Speed Lanes

    Board DesignPCI Express product performance is determined by the combined effects of silicon,

    package, and board design.

    To provide the highest possible margin of performance, it is wise to focus designattention on the following areas:

    DC supply scheme, decoupling, and filtering

    Reference Clock signal handling


    Ball assignment of the PHY device.

    For the DC supply scheme, consider decoupling and filtering requirements of the boarddesign, in order to provide a stable and clean operating supply to the fast switchingelements on board. Minimize high speed spurs that could interfere with the supply ofsensitive parts, such as the PHY analog supply.

    Ensure ample bulk capacitance, combined with high speed decoupling capacitors, persupply voltage; isolate the sensitive power supply areas from potential noise usingfiltered islands.

    The layout design includes the definition of the board stack-up, with special attention to:

    routing the high speed signals, keeping the intra-pair skew low (max of 5 mil)

    routing the reference clock.

    Another layout goal is to achieve efficient decoupling placement and connectivity.

    Design the ball assignments for the PHY device in advance, to enhance the board

    layout (as described in Package Design on page 4), by enabling placement ofdecoupling capacitors and by enabling efficient routing of the high speed signals and thereference clock.

    One major consideration is controlling the PCB layout to minimize the effect of crosstalkon performance, because such crosstalk could impact jitter performance of the PCIExpress interface.

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    Analysis and Validation

    PowerPCIe PHY is very sensitive to power noise and mismatch. Thus, when integrating aPHY, follow these basic rules to avoid silicon noise-related problems:

    Power separation must be implemented according to vendor instructions.

    To protect the PHY from any ESD events, connect the ESD power ring per the IPvendor design guidelines.

    The PHY ESD scheme must be compatible with the I/O ESD scheme andintegrated in a way that will not negatively affect noise requirements of PHY or anysensitive I/Os (such as LVDS or DDRI/II interfaces).

    Keep all differential pairs matched, and verify matching using parasitic RCextraction of signal path.

    All differential pairs should be guarded by the same supply, to ensure the sameeffect if any noise is injected into supplies.

    Any additional layout required for integration must be simulated for supply noiseeffect and mismatch1 with parasitic RC extraction-based netlist.

    You mustshield critical signals in all integration-related layout.

    If staggered I/O is required, consider line inductance and resistance differencesbetween the inner and outer bonding pad ringsDifferential pairs must be on thesame plane. This might require a non-conventional staggering scheme.

    Note: Follow these basic rules to significantly reduce the chance of having a signal

    integrity problem due to power noise or due to faulty integration of the PHY.

    Signal Integrity AnalysisThe signal integrity analysis is done in several stages during the overall product designprocessfrom the initial stage, in which there was no actual design of the package norPCB, to the advanced stages, before releasing the package and/or PCB tomanufacturing.

    The major goal of signal integrity analysis is to provide the expected end-to-end(between driver and receiver) electrical performance of the PHY high speed lane.

    This analysis, in addition to providing the expected margin of performance, can be

    helpful in validating both the package and the PCB design.

    The simulated topology for high speed PCI Express signal analysis includes:

    The PHY I/O driver

    Package model

    1. Mismatch can cause jitter on the transmitting eye or receiving problems that are difficult to detect.

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    PCB interconnect model

    AC coupling capacitors

    Connector model (when and where applicable) Load model and termination.

    The simulation results were stored so that the PCI Express signal masks could beapplied. This facilitated the process of analysis, and at the same time provided easyreference for comparison with the later real-life measurements.

    One major challenge in this verification process is accurately modeling the differentelements in the end-to-end path, because this determines the accuracy of the analysisresults. One such example is via modeling of the PCB interconnect.

    The signal integrity design verification process also includes crosstalk analysis betweentransmit lanes or clock signals and victim signals of the receive lane.

    Functional Verification of the PCI Express OperationThe verification of the design before tape-out, to validate compliance and end-to-endfunctionality, is always very significant, and in the case of the PCI Express application,has additional importance regarding protocol functionality.

    One major consideration is how to ensure that the verification environment willaccurately reflect correct behavior of the real environment that interacts with the productat the PCI Express layers level.

    A good approach is to use a dedicated verification environment that supports the PCIExpress protocol and that allows the generation of test cases.

    Such an environment contributes to the reliability of the verification results, because it

    has been used by many different users, thus increasing confidence in the accuracy andstability of the models, and similarly, confidence in the accuracy of the results.

    An indirect resulting benefit is that there is some increased level of interoperabilityduring verification.

    Having a thorough test plan to be carried out in the verification environment is extremelyimportant. It allows comparison against the compliance checklists, and later on,comparison against lab scenarios. The test plan must include error scenarios toextensively verify correct operation.

    Post Tape-Out Testing

    Typical test, measurement, and verification stages post-silicon include:

    Electrical/Physical layer measurements

    Protocol level tests

    PCIe Plug Fest

    Production testing.

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    The Electrical/Physical layer measurements at the board level are done first to checkthat the product complies with the PCI Express Specification. The set-up consisted of areal-time DSO connected via high quality (low loss) 50-ohm coax cable with SMA

    connector cables to the standard Compliance Board, which is attached to the DUT.The DSO samples run through the PCI-SIG SIGtest tool to confirm that the DUT passesthe requirements.

    The DSO Data Compliance and Analysis software provides a more in-depth analysis ofthe high speed signals.

    The next cycle of measurements is focused at fine tuning the PHY performance overoperating conditions.

    There is motivation to go beyond the compliance requirements, in order to verify andensure that the product will perform in the field reliably and with a large enough margin.

    This assurance can be achieved by testing as many product samples as possible, and

    for each product sample under test, repeating tests and accumulating statistics duringthe measurements to obtain more accurate results (see Figure 2 and Figure 3).

    For the protocol level tests, two tools can be used:


    the PCI Express Exerciser and Analyzer

    both for the standard required tests, as well as for debugging different cases in whichspecific checklist cases are not passing.

    The test coverage for protocol level testing is, of course, dictated by the relevantapplication (endpoint, root-complex, and so on).

    The PCI-SIG PCIECV and the PCI-SIG SIGtest can be downloaded directly from thePCI-SIG forum website,

    Also, specific checklists for the desired testing type are available from the PCI-SIGforum.

    Several dry runs must be made first in the Lab, to ensure that the tests required by PlugFest are successfully completed. Those tests cover the electrical quality, protocol level,and interoperability tests.

    The interoperability tests are best carried out on different motherboard systems, and ineach case, being checked using both the PCIECV as well as operating an application tovalidate that in each case, the PCI Express entity is correctly identified, configured, andoperates correctly.

    For production testing, each vendor has to trade off between the cost of testing and thecoverage of performance that would reflect yield and potential field failures.

    Typically, over time (in terms of production tests), the test coverage gets more optimizedin terms of cost performance.
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    Figure 2 Example of Eye Diagram Measurement, Non-transition Eye (Worst Non-transitionSignal Eye)

    Figure 3 Example of Eye Diagram Measurement (Worst Transitional Signal Eye)

    Table 1 shows a sample Protocol Test Report, performed using the PCI Express

    Analyzer/Exerciser. The table indicates the Specification paragraph tested, thedescription of the paragraph, and the test result.

    Figure 4 shows the typical user interface of the PCI Express Analyzer/Exerciserapplication.

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    Figure 4 Example of PCI Express Analyzer/Exerciser Typical Application

    Table 1 Sample Protocol Test Report using the PCI Express Analyzer/Exerciser

    Test Description Result

    TXN.2.2#4 The receiving device must check that the size of the data payload of

    a Received TLP, as given by the TLP's Length field, must not exceed

    the length specified by the value in the Max_Payload_Size field of the

    receiver's Device Control register, taken as an integral number of

    DW. If this rule is violated, then the TLP is a Malformed TLP and is

    reported (if enabled) as an error associated with the receiving port.


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    The following acronyms are used in this paper.

    ChipX, Incorporated

    2323 Owen Street

    Santa Clara, CA 95054

    Tel: 408-988-2445


    Fax: 408-988-2449

    [email protected]

    2008 ChipX, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

    DisclaimerThis document is provided for general information only. ChipX makes every effort to improve products forits customers on an ongoing basis. Specifications are subject to change without notice. Trademarks are property oftheir owners. Errors and omissions excluded (E&OE).

    BIST built-in self-test

    DRC design rule check

    DSO digital storage oscilloscope

    DUT device under test

    EDA electronic design automation

    ESD electrostatic discharge

    NRE non-recurring engineering

    PCI peripheral component interconnect

    PCIe PCI Express

    PCIECV PCI Express Configuration Test software from

    PHY PHYsical layer interface

    PRBS pseudo random bit sequence

    SMA subminiature version A (coaxial RF connector)

    TLP transaction layer packet

    mailto:[email protected]://[email protected]