VLSI DESIGN AND FPGA-BASED PROTOTYPING OF A BUFFERED SERIAL PORT FOR AUDIO APPLICATIONS

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The present market of semiconductor is very competitive; on one side consumers ask for always increasing performance and new possibilities, on the other companies have to offer low prices in order to be successful. For what concerns performance just think of the wide range of mobile applications, such as PDAs, cellular phones, and laptops : quality of services, duration of the battery and computational power are always taken into account when buying new devices. On the other side, due to the competition, costs have to be very low; this means that both recursive and non-recursive engineering costs have to be kept under control. Time is another important concern: it is usually true that the earlier a product is presented to the market, the wider share of the market it will gain. This leads modern semiconductor companies to look for viable ways to design improved products in a short time. Because of the complexity of the new electronic systems, this is not an easy task to be accomplished; even tough electronic design automation (EDA) tools have greatly improved in the recent years, a gap still exists between the rate foundries can produce chips and the rate these chips can be designed. A very common approach to deal with complexity and performance requirements is to integrate as many functions as possible on a single chip (System-On-Chip); this allows higher clock frequency and lower costs. In connection to this also design reuse has spread in a great part of semiconductor world. This means using in your system modules that others have already designed and tested. This allows you to skip some steps in the design flow (at least for those modules) and saving a significant amount of time. In this framework lies the work of my thesis, developed at the StarCore, a company headquartered in Austin, Texas. StarCore designs and licences Digital Signal Processors as intellectual property; this is basically one of the companies that offer its product to be used in other electronic systems, avoiding licensees to spend time in designing it by themselves. A Digital Signal Processor is a special kind of processor, designed to execute calculus-intensive applications: encoding and decoding of information, voice synthesis and recognition, compression and decompression of data, Fourier Transform are just some examples. In many systems, thanks to its programmability and its limited cost it is the suitable solution. For example most mobile phones employs a DSP processor to perform base band operation on the signal. In these kind of systems, it is important that very few cycles are spent doing other than signal processing, such as dealing with peripherals. In the case of an audio signal it is important that the audio port asks for the fewer cycle it is possible. For this reason at StarCore my activity was to design and develop an audio port controller aiming to reduce at least the cycles asked to the processor in case that the algorithm run is frame based. For this purpose I designed hardware to be mapped into an FPGA, and wrote some software for the DSP; I worked mainly with the Development Board, used to prototype applications based on the StarCore processor.