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IJSRD - International Journal for Scientific Research & Development| Vol.

3, Issue 10, 2015 | ISSN (online): 2321-0613

A Survey of Functional Verification Techniques


Aartika Bansal1 Nagendra Sah2 Anantharaj T.V.3
1
P.G Student 2Assistant Professor
1,2
PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh, India 3ASIC Verification Department SanDisk,
Bangalore, India
Abstract In this paper, we present a survey of various
techniques used in functional verification of industry
hardware designs. Although the use of formal verification
techniques has been increasing over time, there is still a
need for an immediate practical solution resulting in an
increased interest in hybrid verification techniques. Hybrid
techniques combine formal and informal (traditional
simulation based) techniques to take the advantage of both
the worlds. A typical hybrid technique aims to address the
verification bottleneck by enhancing the state space
coverage.
Key words: Functional verification, simulation, formal
methodology, hybrid techniques
I. INTRODUCTION
Functional verification of a circuit is the process to ensure
that the design implementation conforms to the original
circuit specifications. The traditional and the most common
method of verification has been through simulation. But
recently, there is an increased interest in formal verification
methods such as model checking, equivalence checking,
language containment and theorem proving. Formal
verification is a viable option to improve design quality. As
the size and complexity of System on Chip (SoC) design has
been ever increasing, verification engineers face the
challenge in developing efficient verification strategies and
ensure that the designs are completely bug-free. Early
detection of errors is desired since it saves a lot of time,
effort and manufacturing costs. A general theme being
practiced is to apply multiple verification techniques which
complement one another, resulting in the overall efficiency
of verification tool. Such integration must be carried out
strategically and precisely.
Simulation remains the most-practiced technique
for most of the real life verification issues in industry
practice. Its scalability and easy applicability to almost any
design makes it suitable for most of the verification tasks.
But over time, its effectiveness to find corner case errors is
significantly decreasing. When used as a stand-alone
technique, it can detect simple bugs only. On the contrary,
formal techniques can, in principle, find all the bugs in a
design model but their applicability in practice is limited.
The skilled manual guidance needed for theorem proving
and the state explosion in model checking are the problems
confronted in these techniques. So there is a need of an
immediate practical solution which gives rise to a keen
interest in the integration of formal and informal techniques,
referred to as hybrid methodology.
II. FORMAL VERIFICATION
Formal verification methods comprise the techniques that
logically prove the correctness of a hardware design. No test
vectors are required in formal verification as opposed to the

traditional simulation based methods. There are three


subcategories in these methods:
a) Theorem proving
b) Model checking
c) Equivalence checking
A. Theorem proving methods:
These methods demand the representation of both the
system and its properties in the form of formulas in some
mathematical (formal) logic [1]. The logic defines a set of
axioms and inference rules on the basis of which the tool
finds the proof of a property. Thus, theorem proving is the
process of finding the proofs from the axioms of the system.
Some well-known theorem proving systems are: BoyerMoore (first order logic) [2], Higher-order logic (HOL),
PVS [3]. But these systems are hard to use since the
designers need expertise in this area to be capable of using
these systems.
B. Model Checking:
In model checking, a finite state model (FSM) for the
system is built and then the tool checks whether the desired
property holds. The proofs are attempted by exhaustion
which means for a given system, the tool generates all the
possible states the system can be in and then tests each state
individually [1, 2, 4]. K. Fishler et al. have explored the
verification of VHDL designs with COSPAN which is a
model checker [5]. K. McMillan details the Symbolic Model
Checking to solve the problem of state space explosion
faced in model checking. Cadence Design Systems [7] and
Lucent Technologies [8] have developed Formal Check
Model Checker for model checking verification. The major
drawback of model checking is the state space explosion.
These tools can handle a limited size circuit only. Moreover,
model checkers can skip an error if the designer did not
specify a property.
C. Equivalence checking:
This technique is also based on the FSM. This method
checks the equivalence between a reference model and the
design to be verified, both expressed as FSMs. The two are
said to be equivalent if they produce the same output for
every possible input stimulus. Design Verifyer developed by
Chrysalic Symbolic Design [9], Affirma Equivalence
Checker developed by Cadence Design System [10],
Formality developed by Synopsys [11] are some of the
examples of equivalence checkers. This method can be used
to verify the equivalence between gate level description and
the RTL code. But to verify RTL code, we cannot use this
method as there is no reference model for comparison. State
space explosion is a problem in this approach too.
III. INFORMAL VERIFICATION
Since formal verification techniques cannot handle large
designs due to state space explosion, simulation based

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verification remains the major technique to perform


hardware design verification. A traditional methodology for
the VLSI design and verification is shown in figure 1. As
shown, once the circuit specifications are ready and it has
been partitioned into blocks, the next step is to write RTL
code for each block and then combine these blocks into
whole chip.

Fig. 2: Concurrent Verification Methodology


IV. HYBRID TECHNIQUES
These techniques combine at least two methods which
complement one anothers strengths and weaknesses
effectively. Bartley et al. showed that with the increasing
complexity and size of the circuit, the most effective way of
functional verification is to combine the strengths of
different techniques [14]. We classify the hybrid functional
verification methods as follows:
a) Combination of formal and informal techniques,
b) Combination of two formal techniques,
c) Combination of two informal techniques,
d) Combination of multiple verification techniques.
Fig. 1: Traditional VLSI Design Methodology
The verification engineers then develop the test benches for
the simulation of the device under test (DUT). The actual
circuit response is compared against the expected response
for the pre-determined stimuli. If the match occurs, the test
passes otherwise it fails. It takes a huge amount of time and
resources to write test benches to verify the circuit at RTL
level.
Instead of waiting to complete the RTL description
of the circuit and then start verification process, we must
adopt a concurrent verification methodology as shown in
figure 2. In this methodology, the verification team starts
writing test bench as soon as the system specification is
complete and the designers start writing the RTL code.
Initially they run simulation on the developed
behavioral models of the blocks. Once the RTL code is
ready, the model is replaced by the RTL code. This saves a
lot of time.
The Vera Verification System developed by
Synopsys [12] and the Spec-Man: Spec-based functional
verification by Versity Design [13] are the simulation based
tools that use better test bench construction languages.
Major drawbacks of informal techniques comprise long
simulation runs, a lot of effort and time needed to write the
test bench and difficulty in finding the stimuli for the corner
cases.

A. Combination of formal and informal techniques:


Since the informal techniques are inherently incomplete in
finding all the design errors, the combination of one with
formal technique yields a technique that is incomplete.
1) Control circuit exploration:
The exploration of control circuits can address the problem
of increasing state space coverage. Horowitz et al. detailed
a generalized technique that is viable for a large set of
circuit types [15]. This technique automatically generates
the test vectors that make the microprocessor exercise all
control logic transitions in simulation. It does not target
only certain test cases but delves into many improbable
conditions in corner cases. Hence, it maximizes the
probability of catching bugs through simulation.
Moundanos et al. explored coverage-directed test
generation in which user provided stimuli help to discover
the interesting control space behavior of large designs.
Geist et al. have proposed to construct an abstract model
with key features of the original design [17]. These models
help to alleviate the state explosion problem by the
imposition of a less constrained upper bound.
2) Directed Functional Test Generation:
Typically, verification teams in industries have a set of
conditions to meet before the design is taped out. These
conditions are constrained by a combination of coverage
metrics, corner cases and design complexity. The
verification engineers are to detect the design errors in the
way of reaching these conditions. Pseudo Random Test

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Generation methods are ineffective to cover specific corner


cases. So, only simulation is not enough to meet the needs
of directed verification. Geist et al. presented a study of a
formal verification using coverage models to specify
functional tests [17]. This hybrid technique has, in fact,
resulted in improved functional verification. Ganai et al.
proposed a rarity based metric for state prioritization that
enabled an efficient directed functional search of a large
state space [18].
Symbolic simulation is an effective formal
verification technique but fails for large and complex real
designs. Yuan et al. showed that the combination of formal
verification and simulation to achieve better coverage in
larger circuits can find bugs far more quickly as compared
to using only formal verification [19].
3) Automatic Test Pattern Generation (ATPG) and formal
techniques:
Traditionally, techniques using ATPG localize the bug
search instead of searching the entire state space at once.
Since formal techniques can address the incompleteness of
ATPG, the two can be combined effectively.
Jones and Privitera proposed the technique of automatic
generation of test vectors for functional verification which
gives advantage of random as well as directed testing [20].
They showed that formal specifications can be given as
inputs to a test generator. The main algorithms combine
ATPG and BDDs (Binary Decision Diagrams) to generate
the directed test vectors.
Boppana et al. proposed the usage of sequential
ATPG for model checking [21]. They studied the efficiency
of sequential ATPG for state space exploration. Huan and
Cheng proposed the combination of word-level sequential
ATPG techniques with modular constraint solving
techniques to verify safety properties [22]. They
transformed the problem into a counter example generation
problem. Sequential ATPG loses its effectiveness for large
complex circuits. Vedula et al. solved this problem by using
a well-known technique called program slicing. They
reduced the module under test, hence accelerating
sequential ATPG efficiency in solving the Bounded Model
Checking (BMC) problem.
4) Constraint-based verification:
In a constraint-based random verification methodology, the
user provides constraints that model the appropriate
interaction of the DUT with its environment. Using these
constraints, random stimuli are generated. The generated
stimuli can mimic the actual environment. Yuan et al.
invented such a set of constraint-based verification
techniques [24]. Wu and Huang proposed to implement
constraints with variable ordering so as to put the required
efforts on the cared patterns [25]. However, they found that
it may lead to degradation of pattern generation speed and
distribution. To overcome this challenge, they provided a
technique to preanalyze the solution space by splitting the
ranges of variables. Yehia showed a standard and effective
way to avoid redundant stimuli by constructing a link
between the collected coverage and constrained random
stimuli at runtime [26]. The beauty of the constraint-based
verification lies in the fact that it works at various
abstraction levels of a design viz. module, block and unit
level.

B. Combination of formal techniques:


Researchers face the challenge of effectively combining
theorem proving and model checking. Industrial-scale
efforts encounter limits on model-checking capacity even
today. Some of these limits can be alleviated by using
theorem proving to compose verification results.
1) Trajectory evaluation and theorem proving:
Joyce and Seger proposed the combination of trajectory
evaluation and theorem proving [27]. They used the former
as a decision procedure for the HOL proof system. Later,
Seger et al. showed that combination of STE with
lightweight theorem proving in HOL can be useful in
industrial scale verification[28].
2) Composition of model checker runs:
Camelleri used a theorem prover in combination with a
model checker to verify a cache protocol [29]. He used
separate tools to verify various properties but did not
combine the results mechanically. Jang et al. used a
technique of model checking referred to as computation
tree logic (CTL) to verify different properties of a
microcontroller [30]. Then, he achieved the proof of the
top-level specification through a composition of model
checking runs.
C. Combination of informal techniques:
Kuehlmann et al. detailed an algorithm that uses
probabilistic techniques [31]. The algorithm assigns each
state a probability based on its chance to lead to a target
state. On the basis of assigned probabilities, a set of ranks is
assigned to the design states. This algorithm uses the
ranking system to find a path from the initial states to the
target states and can act as complement to the existing
hybrid techniques for state space research. But it may lead
to dead-end states. Yuan et al. proposed the use of input
biasing to cover corner cases instead of using an explicit
test bench [32]. Researchers have also explored the
learning-based techniques. Fine and Ziv reported the use of
computer learning and Bayesian networks [33]. Shimizu
and Dill describe the coverage-directed informal methods
that collect coverage information and derive the stimuli
through the use of formal descriptions [34]. The description
lists the interface properties of a bus protocol. But the listed
properties are localized in time. Tasiran et al. proposed a
tag coverage metric which considers a code segment to be
covered only when it has executed and the effect has been
recorded [35]. The metric is used to guide a semiformal test
generation algorithm which is based on the analysis of the
circuit modeled as a Markov chain in the steady state.
D. Combination of multiple techniques:
Ho et al. developed the very first successful tool viz.
Ketchum which combined several verification techniques
into a single hybrid technique [36]. The tool used the
capabilities like test pattern generation and non-reachability
analysis in order to get improvement over the traditional
simulation techniques. Ketchum combines simulation with
symbolic simulation, SAT-based BMC, symbolic fixpoint
computation and many more. Non-reachability analysis
helps to focus on coverage issues earlier in the design
cycle. Ho et al. experimentally found that Ketchum
provides a tenfold capacity increase compared to previous
results.

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V. CONCLUSION
In this paper, we have presented a number of verification
techniques for industrial hardware designs. A single
verification technique is not enough to fulfill all the needs
of todays industrial design verification environment.
Hence, further improvements are sought in this area. Future
directions may include efforts to increase the tool capacity
and accuracy to develop new verification techniques which
would be better optimized to solve the overall verification
challenges. The hybrid tools may be taken a step further to
include features like circuit pre-analysis, dynamic
interaction between verification methods and manual
guidance to handle real industrial and complex decision
issues.
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