Using airhdl in a Master Class System on Chip Design

A while ago, I stumbled across airhdl thanks to a colleague from the university
(KU Leuven, Belgium). I instantly loved the simplicity and intuitively that the tool provides. Because of this, airhdl is now incorporated in my lessons System on Chip (SoC) design that are taught to the master students in Electrical Engineering and the European master in Radiation and its Effects on MicroElectronics and Photonics Technologies (RADMEP for short).

The approach of the labs is simple… Don’t use old dusty books and practices but instead, teach the students how it is done in the industry. Therefore, a real environment how it should be done in a design/verification team is emulated and yes, also the verification part. Thus, sending a single stimulus in the DUT and call it a day is of course out of order 😉!

The exercise is in essence the same, year over year (but the RTL design/verification and software development are different). Students design and verify an IP according to specifications. Verification of the IP is done via testing frameworks such as UVM, Vunit, cocotb, pyuvm, …. Once the IP is verified, it is packaged and then integrated in the Zynq SoC from Xilinx. Afterwards application software is written, and system-level debugging is performed to ensure correct behavior of the complete system.

The IP itself is of such complexity that a wide range of configuration and event registers are used in the design. On top of this, multiple memories are also instantiated and used in the design. All these registers and memories are, of course memory mapped, and this is where airhdl comes in to play.

Students use airhdl to keep their register management in line. They create their register map via the tool and use the auto generation features to generate the RTL and import it in their IP project. I noticed that they didn’t have any problem of understanding and using airhdl as a tool. A small demonstration along my side was more than sufficient so that they could start with their tasks. Therefore, I think that airhdl is also a suitable tool for academic purposes and teach students in electrical engineering how register mapping is done. I hope this inspires more professors/lecturers to use airhdl in their classes.

Levi Mariën is a System on Chip design and Verification Engineer at Nokia (Fixed Networks) and lecturer at the KU Leuven (Belgium) where he teaches a master class System-on-Chip Design to the Electrical Engineering students and the students in Radiation and its Effects on MicroElectronics and Photonics Technologies (RADMEP).