Xilinx’ XST synthesizer bug: ROM generation using case

This post was written by eli on March 14, 2009
Posted Under: FPGA,Software

Take a close look on the Verilog code below. This is a plainly-written synchronous ROM. Do you see anything wrong with it? (Spoiler: There is nothing wrong with it. Not that I know of)

module coeffs
   clk, en,
   addr, data

   input clk, en;
   input [9:0] addr;
   output [15:0] data;

   reg [15:0]      data;

   always @(posedge clk)
     if (en)
       case (addr)
     0: data <= 16'h101a;
     1: data <= 16'h115b;
     2: data <= 16'h0f1c;
     3: data <= 16'h0f6d;
     4: data <= 16'hffa4;

... and counting up ...

     249: data <= 16'h0031;
     250: data <= 16'hfffa;
     251: data <= 16'hffee;
     default: data <= 0;

But it so happens, that Xilinx’ XST synthesizer failed to get this one right. XST J.39, release 9.2.03i, if you insist.

And when I say it didn’t get it right, I mean that what I got on the hardware didn’t implement what the Verilog says it should.

First, what it should have done: Since the address space consists of 10 bits, and there are a lot of, but less than 1024 data elements, the synthesizer should have matched this with a 1k x 18 block RAM, set the values as INIT parameters, and not allow any writes. And so it did. Almost.

The problem, it seems, lies in the fact that only 252 data slots are assigned, leaving 3/4 of the ROM with zeroes. This is where the synthesizer tried to be smarter, for no practical reason. Based upon what I saw with the FPGA Editor, the synthesizer detected, that if any of addr[9] or addr[8] are nonzero, then the output is zero anyhow. Since the block RAM has a synchronous reset input, which affects only the output, the synthesizer decided to feed this reset with (addr[9] || addr[8]). This doesn’t change anything: If any of these lines is high, the output should be zero. It would be anyhow, since the block RAM itself contains zeros on the relevant addresses, but this reset logic doesn’t hurt. As long as you get it right, that is. Which wasn’t the case this time.

What really happened, was that the synthesizer mistakenly reversed the polarity of the logic of the reset line, so it got (!addr[8] && !addr[9]) instead. That made the memory array produce zeros for any address. And the design didn’t work.

It looks like the idea was to reverse the polarity at the block RAM’s reset input as well (which costs nothing in terms of logic resources) but somehow this didn’t come about.

Workaround: It looks like the “default” statement triggered this bug. Since the Verilog file was generated by a computer program anyhow, I let it go on running all the way to 1023, explicitly assigning zeros to each address. This is completely equivalent, of course, but made the design work in real life.

One of these bugs you wouldn’t expect.

Reader Comments

I sure hope you reported this to xilinx

Written By Hakan on February 8th, 2010 @ 11:49


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