The University Record, January 14, 1997

Grad students win VLSI Design Contest

Two graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science, Phiroze Parakh and Todd Basso, took first-place honors in the 1996 Student VLSI (Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit) Design Contest.

The two won the experienced category with their design of a niche-type semiconductor, using galium arsenide and domino logic to enhance its speed. The project was initially part of a class project, Parakh says, adding that he was thrilled by the honor. "We were competing against some very talented students in the field." In designing the project, Basso says, "The approach we used was somewhat different than the standard CAD (computer-aided design) tools that are used. Ours was automated by programs that we wrote ourselves."

Basso and Parakh, whose preliminary work on the project began in September 1995, shared the $5,000 in prize money with two Rutgers University students, winners of the novice category. Twenty-seven entries were submitted for this year's contest sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Mentor Graphics.

Richard Brown, professor of electrical engineering and computer-aided design who served as faculty advisor for the project, says that the original research project was part of a larger, ongoing project to build a superfast 1 GHz (gigahertz) microprocessor, theoretically capable of processing a billion instructions per second. One GHz is equal to 1,000 Mhz (megahertz). The competition to build a superfast microprocessor is stiff, he says. "We're competing against people and companies that have 600 people working on a project. We push particular aspects of the projects, making it easier for companies to save time and money. The real point of our project is to develop technologies and CAD tools that will allow people to build microprocessors that run at 1 GHz."

Brown noted that not only did Basso and Parakh win first prize, but U-M teams took the second-, third- and fourth- place prizes, as well. "We totally dominated the contest. This is like winning the Rose Bowl."

All of the winning students, including Basso and Parakh, have been Brown's students, most in an advanced integrated circuit design course. "These students are in tremendous demand," Brown says. "They are very hot commodities when they come out of the University."