ELEC 403

Advanced VLSI Systems


This course describes various considerations that are involved in designing a modern digital integrated circuit. Topics are chosen to complement the subject in ELEC 402. Therefore, ELEC 402 is a pre-requisite for ELEC 403. Both circuit and system level details are covered.


  • Understand different compute and memory solutions in modern systems
  • Understand clock generation and clock distribution in microprocessors
  • Understand a variety of signaling and clocking schemes and system-level trade-offs in high-speed digital links
  • Design and simulate digital circuits for high-speed links using Cadence and MATLAB.
  • Become familiar with different link standards such as PCIExpress, SATA, DDR, etc.
  • Obtain an overview of high-speed I/O links.

Broad Contents:

  • CPUs, GPUs, TPUs, Modern SoCs
  • Logical effort
  • Synchronization
  • SRAM, DRAM, HBM, CAM (if not covered in ELEC 402)
  • Memory controllers
  • Brief review of digital phase locked loops
  • Clock trees
  • Power distribution
  • Power supply noise
  • Introduction to high-speed links
  • Noise and Jitter
  • Characterizing data channels in frequency and time domain
  • Equalization
  • Link modeling and simulation
  • Signaling schemes
  • Design of transmitter circuits
  • Design of receiver circuits
  • Different clocking schemes

Suggested Reading:

  • Digital Systems Engineering, W. Dally and J. Poulton, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Weste & Harris, CMOS VLSI Design: A Circuits and Systems Perspective, 4th ed., Addison-Wesley, 2010.


  • Anyone of (ELEC 401, ELEC 402, ELEC 404)
  • Experience with Cadence Spectre Simulation tool and Matlab is strongly recommended.

Grading (2021):

  • Projects 50%
  • Exams 20%
  • Quizzes 10%
  • HWs 20%

Course Delivery:

  • Some lectures will be in person
  • Some lectures will be flipped: You would be provided links to lecture video, as well as reading materials to go along for convenience. Class hours will be used to answer your questions, practice problems, conduct quizzes.

Instructor’s Office Hour:

  • Tuesdays Thursdays 2:00-2:45pm K4017
  • By appointment


Q. How is the graduate version (ELEC503) different from the undergraduate version (ELEC403)?

ELEC403 is more system-focused and digital VLSI intensive, and also includes topics that do not get covered in ELEC402. These may include memory, logical effort, power supply distribution and noise, clock generation and distribution. ELEC503 is a high-speed link course with a focus on digital and mixed-signal circuits. The graduate students will have different sets of questions for exams and different project specifications.

Q. I have not used Cadence Spectre before. What should I do?

You would have to ramp up significantly and learn Cadence. Cadence is used in all the pre-requisite courses. We would provide tutorial documents on Cadence to you. They include step-by-step instructions for simulating basic circuits. You would need to learn them on your own. You may ask the instructor or other students if you have specific questions.