Oasys’ product, RealTime Designer, is claimed to be 10x-60x faster than the competition. Among other things, it uses AIG-based optimization. This technology is best illustrated by UC Berkeley’s ABC synthesis: several FPGA startups reported that ABC boosted significantly the speed, capacity, and quality of their synthesis engines. No question that Oasys’ synthesis is competitive, at least in the FPGA world.
Xilinx is an investor into Oasys, and it has been toying with their synthesis technology for at least a year, so it’s not like they just discover each other. Xilinx has to close a software technological gap with respect to its closest competitor, Altera, and a fast, high capacity synthesis will certainly help.
Synthesis speed is key here. Until recently FPGA design was mostly an iterative process: synthesize, simulate, and debug (i.e., change in the RTL) until the performances and functionality of the design were satisfactory. That trial-and-error approach becomes impractical as the size of FPGA devices is increasing to the point that one single iteration takes hours, if not a day. Having a 10x speedup in synthesis means you can restore that familiar design iteration for a few more years.
Verification has become a bottleneck in FPGA. Simulating is used and will still be used in the future. But FPGA’s complexity requires a more complete verification methodology, like formal verification. However formal verification has trouble addressing optimization techniques heavily used in FPGA synthesis, like retiming and state re-encoding. An ABC-like optimization engine comes with a built-in formal verifier that can check independently the correctness of every incremental optimization steps performed during the optimization run. The correctness of the resulting netlist comes with a very high degree of confidence, and only the RTL description needs to be simulated.
Xilinx’ customers will benefit from that technology, and catch up with Altera’s synthesis. As for the EDA vendors selling their own FPGA synthesis, they all use or will use some flavor of AIG-based optimization. Differentiation will be done on the smartness of the high-level optimization –datapath, IPs–, the user experience (GUI), the integrated verification environment (still to be demonstrated), and of course the bottom-line: QoR –clock cycle, area, and power. The race is on.