Balancing Design Options with Sherpa

Timothy Sherwood, Mark Oskin and Brad Calder

International Conference on Compilers, Architecture, and Synthesis for Embedded Systems (CASES), September 2004


Application specific processors offer the potential of rapidly designed logic specifically constructed to meet the performance and area demands of the task at hand. Recently, there have been several major projects that attempt to automate the process of transforming a predetermined processor configuration into a low level description for fabrication. These projects either leave the specification of the processor to the designer, which can be a significant engineering burden, or handle it in a fully automated fashion, which completely removes the designer from the loop.

In this paper we introduce a technique for guiding the design and optimization of application specific processors. The goal of the Sherpa design framework is to automate certain design tasks and provide early feedback to help the designer navigate their way through the architecture design space. Our approach is to decompose the overall problem of choosing an optimal architecture into a set of sub-problems that are, to the first order, independent. For each sub-problem, we create a model that relates performance to area. From this, we build a constraint system that can be solved using integer-linear programming techniques, and arrive at an ideal parameter selection for all architectural components. Our approach only takes a few minutes to explore the design space allowing the designer or compiler to see the potential benefits of optimizations rapidly. We show that the expected performance using our model correlates strongly to detailed pipeline simulations, and present results showing design tradeoffs for several different benchmarks.