U-M Startup Aims to “Reveal” Design Flaws In Computer Chips

3/4/11Follow @xconomy

Designing a next generation computer chip can be a real pain in the…uh, hard drive.

Just ask Intel.

In January, the world’s largest maker of chips said it stopped shipments of chips that power its most advanced Sandy Bridge line of PC processors because of a design flaw, a recall Intel said would cost it about $1 billion.

“That’s kind of a bummer,” says Vimal Bhalodia, business development manager for Reveal Design Automation, a University of Michigan-bred startup.

One company’s bummer, however, is another company’s boon. Founded by recent U-M computer science graduate Zaher Andraus, Reveal has developed a way for chip designers to quickly check for bugs before manufacturers start shipping out defective devices.

Semiconductor chips essentially act as the brains of computers so any defect could cause a severe disruption in worldwide sales of PCs, video game consoles and mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.

Specifically, Andraus has created software that can greatly accelerate the process of “formal verification,” a mathematical way of proving that “chip always does what it’s supposed to do, guaranteeing there are no bugs,” Andraus says.

Reveal claims its technology is 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than any other formal verification method, allowing chip designers catch bugs within minutes and hours versus days and weeks.

“Their technology has the potential to disrupt” the industry, says Terry Cross, a prominent local technology investor, who’s interested in backing Reveal. “They are the last step in the verification food chain and they can turn cycle time from multiple weeks to days.”

“Given the cost of [chip] designers, this can strip substantial cost from the equation,” he continued. “In a complex circuit design team, it is not unusual to have a team of up to a hundred or more engineers working together, so when you can take time out of the process through faster verification, the savings are huge.”

The startup is closely working with ARM Holdings in Cambridge, UK, the world’s top chip designer, which provides significant financial support to the U-M’s computer research program.

One of Reveal’s advisors is Randal Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science and a top expert on formal verification. For his work, Bryant recently received … Next Page »

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