Intelligent Circuit Design and Implementation with Machine Learning

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Electronic design automation (EDA) technology has achieved remarkable progress over the past decades. However, modern chip design is not completely automatic yet in general and the gap is not easily surmountable. For example, the chip design flow is still largely restricted to individual point tools with limited interplay across tools and design steps. Tools applied at early steps cannot well judge if their solutions may eventually lead to satisfactory designs, inevitably leading to over-pessimistic design or significantly longer turnaround time. While existing challenges have long been unsolved, the ever-increasing complexity of integrated circuits (ICs) leads to even more stringent design requirements. Therefore, there is a compelling need for essential improvement in existing EDA techniques.

The stagnation of EDA technologies roots from insufficient knowledge reuse. In practice, very similar simulation or optimization results may need to be repeatedly constructed from scratch. This motivates my research on introducing more ``intelligence'' to EDA with machine learning (ML), which explores complex correlations in design flows based on prior data. Besides design time, I also propose ML solutions to boost IC performance by assisting the circuit management at runtime.

In this dissertation, I present multiple fast yet accurate ML models covering a wide range of chip design stages from the register-transfer level (RTL) to sign-off, solving primary chip-design problems about power, timing, interconnect, IR drop, routability, and design flow tuning. Targeting the RTL stage, I present APOLLO, a fully automated power modeling framework. It constructs an accurate per-cycle power model by extracting the most power-correlated signals. The model can be further implemented on chip for runtime power management with unprecedented low hardware costs. Targeting gate-level netlist, I present Net2 for early estimations on post-placement wirelength. It further enables more accurate timing analysis without actual physical design information. Targeting circuit layout, I present RouteNet for early routability prediction. As the first deep learning-based routability estimator, some feature-extraction and model-design principles proposed in it are widely adopted by later works. I also present PowerNet for fast IR drop estimation. It captures spatial and temporal information about power distribution with a customized CNN architecture. Last, besides targeting a single design step, I present FIST to efficiently tune design flow parameters during both logic synthesis and physical design.





Xie, Zhiyao (2022). Intelligent Circuit Design and Implementation with Machine Learning. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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