Verification-Aware Processor Design

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As technological advances enable computers to permeate many of our society's critical application domains (such as medicine, finances, transportation), the requirement for computers to always behave correctly becomes critical as well. Currently, ensuring that processor designs are correct represents a major challenge for the computing industry consuming the majority (up to 70%) of the resources allocated for the creation of a new processor. Looking towards the future, we see that with each new processor generation, even more transistors fit on the same chip area and more complex designs become possible, which makes it unlikely that the difficulty of the design verification problem will decrease by itself.

We believe that the difficulty of the design verification problem is compounded by the current processor design flow. In most design cycles, a design's verifiability is not explicitly considered at an early stage - when decisions are most influential - because that initial focus is exclusively on improving the design on more traditional metrics like performance, power, and area. It is thus possible for the resulting design to be very difficult to verify in the end, specifically because its verifiability was not ranked high on the priority list in the beginning.

In this thesis we propose to view verifiability as a critical design constraint to be considered, together with other established metrics, like performance and power, from the initial stages of design. Our high level goal is for this approach to make designs more verifiable, which would both decrease the resources invested in the verification step and lead to more robust designs.

More specifically, we make five main contributions in this thesis. The first is our proposal for a change in design perspective towards considering verifiability as a first class constraint. Second, we use formal verification (through a combination of theorem proving, model checking, and probabilistic model checking ) to quantitatively evaluate the impact on verifiability of various design choices like the organization of caches, TLBs, pipeline, operand bypass network, and dynamic power management mechanisms. Our third contribution is to evaluate design trade-offs between verifiability and other established metrics, like performance and power, in the context of multi-core dynamic power management schemes. Fourth, we re-design several components for increasing their verifiability. Finally, we propose design guidelines for increasing verifiability. In the context of single core processors our guidelines refer to the organization of caches and translation lookaside buffers (TLBs), the depth of the core's pipeline, the type of ALUs used, while for multi-core processors we refer to dynamic power management schemes (DPMs) for power capping.

Our results confirm that making design choices with verifiability as a first class design constraint has the capacity to decrease the verification effort. Furthermore, making explicit trade-offs between verifiability, performance and power helps identify better design points for given verification, performance, and power goals.





Lungu, Anita (2009). Verification-Aware Processor Design. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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