Student Profile: Xiaoyu Shi

CS Masters student looks to improve the efficiency of electrical design automation in FPGA circuits

Do you think you could get through the day without turning on your computer or checking your cell phone? These are just two of the many electronic devices that have changed the world as we know it. And, like most electronic equipment, they use integrated circuits to carry the signals that control the device.

Some of these circuits are designed for a particular use. These application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) tend to take longer to hit the market and must be sent back to the circuit manufacturer in order to make changes.

On the other hand, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) provide a customizable setup that can be configured by the device manufacturer (as opposed to the circuit manufacturer). This has many advantages including flexibility, the ability to make updates, and low costs for re-programming (relative to ASICs). However, theplacement process (deciding how to position the logic elements for maximum efficiency) is often time consuming. Even with extensive studies done on improving the efficiency of FPGA placement, increasing design complexity and time-to-market pressures constantly call for this process to be even faster.

As a member of the data mining group, Xiaoyu Shi is trying to revisit FPGA placement from a fresh angle – using data mining techniques. By extracting and reusing existing information in previous designs, he is able to guide placement in new designs. This avoids redundant computation, which in turn accelerates the placement process. With careful tuning of the algorithm, Xiaoyu has managed to achieve two orders of magnitude speedup compared to a current, state-of-the-art placement tool for FPGAs. These encouraging results indicate the possibility of shortening the time-to-market of FPGA designed products from months to mere hours! His success also showcases the use of data mining techniques in the field of electronic design automation (EDA), which could lead to many interesting research directions in the future.

In addition to exploring circuits and algorithms, you will also find Xiaoyu exploring Canada. His only word of advice to other international students is to get involved.

"Everyone is very friendly," he says, "and I have had many great experiences organizing CSGSA events, participating GAC discussions and living in a house with many different international students."

Article and photos, 2010.