Supercomputers needed for nanometer chip design

From EETimes, Nanometer chip design is becoming so compute-intensive that it needs supercomputer-like capability, according to Mentor Graphics Corp. and Mercury Computer Systems Inc. In particular, optical proximity correction (OPC) can best be performed by hardware acceleration based on the Cell Broadband Engine processor, the companies claim.

Mentor and Mercury had looked at a number of possible ways to speed OPC computations, including FPGAs, DSPs and general-purpose processors. The Cell emerged as the best choice, Skalabrin said. “There’s a very significant gain. Some algorithms are 50 to 100 times faster.”

Even at 65 nanometers, according to Sawicki, some customers are using 1,000 processor nodes to run OPC–and taking days to do it. Some are talking about needing 2,000 nodes for 45 nm, “an unacceptable explosion in the cost of ownership,” Sawicki said.

The Cell’s strength is rapid image processing. Compared with an Opteron processor, a Cell processor uses fast Fourier transforms (FFTs) to speed OPC simulation, he said.

The Dual Cell-Based Blade offers peak performance of 400 gigaflops, features two 3.2-GHz Cell BE processors and includes 512 Mbytes of XDR DRAM memory per Cell BE processor. Mercury has mapped key signal-processing algorithms onto the blade.

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