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Module IES-2006:
VLSI Design Principles

Module Facts

Run by School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Iestyn Pierce

Overall aims and purpose

This module aims to introduce the concepts and design techniques of Very Large Scale Integration systems through a study of Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), with particular emphasis on Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs).

Course content

• ASIC technologies: fully custom, standard cell, gate array and programmable ASICs. Influence of total cost on choice of ASIC type.

• Programmable Logic Devices (PLDs), Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Programming technology. CMOS logic cells. Coarse-grained vs fine-grained architectures. Routing and Timing. I/O cells. Embedded microprocessors.

• ASIC Design Software, design flows and design entry methods: Schematic Entry, Hardware Description Languages (HDLs): VHDL.

• Behavioural and structural models. Event-driven simulation. Logic Synthesis: limitations of HDL based logic synthesis.

• Register Transfer Level (RTL) design: datapath, High Level State Machines (HSM), operator binding, operator scheduling, area-time trade-offs.

Learning outcomes mapped to assessment criteria







Know about the different types of ASIC available and their suitability for different applications.

Can state the different types of ASIC available. Shows basic knowledge of relative production cost per unit and cost to design of different types of ASIC. Can describe the construction and architecture of different ASIC types. Can choose most suitable type based on cost when choice is clear. Can give a reasoned argument for a particular choice of technology.

Understand the principles of Programmable ASIC technology.

Can describe architecture of FPGAs and their logic and I/O cells. Shows knowledge of timing limitations. Demonstrates understanding of the basic physics of CMOS logic cells. Can build simple logic functions from standard cells. Can perform timing analysis of simple circuits, using reasonable approximations based on underlying physics.

Understand the principles of ASIC design.

Can describe the ASIC design process. Can specify simple logic circuits using VHDL. Can describe the simulation process. Knows the differences between behavioural and structural models. Can explain the need for behavioural and structural models for the same circuit. Can perform “dry runs” of VHDL simulations. Can devise simple RTL designs. Can describe the limitations and pitfalls of HDL-based logic synthesis and design. Can perform “dry runs” of VHDL simulations showing correct use of Delta Time. Can evaluate alternative RTL designs.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Examination 100

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Worked examples, design problems, attempting tutorial questions, completing past exam papers, revision.


2 x 1 hour lectures per week for 12 weeks includes 4 x 1 hour tutorial sessions in lecture slots


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Apply underpinning concepts and ideas of engineering;
  • Apply knowledge and understanding of the specialist cognate area of electronic engineering in an international context;
  • Apply knowledge and understanding of the specialist cognate area of computer systems engineering in an international context;
  • Apply knowledge and understanding of the specialist cognate area of computer systems for controlling complex systems;
  • Apply knowledge and understanding of the specialist cognate area of computer systems engineering in safety-critical areas;
  • Solve problems logically and systematically;
  • Demonstrate familiarity with relevant subject specific and general computer software packages.

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses: