Tiny Diamonds

A Tribology Triumph

by Bryon Moyer

The world has seen a ton of MEMS devices built in the last few years. Of course, MEMS technology has been around for decades, but it’s really been the ability to fabricate cheaply, coupled with high-volume applications, that has driven the more recent surge.

While MEMS devices have historically been built out of many different substances, the “fabricate cheaply” thing comes partly from the ability to use silicon – either etching the pieces out of the wafer (bulk micro-machining) or depositing films onto silicon and etching those (surface micro-machining).

I never noticed this, but it turns out that, as nice as silicon can be, there are certain kinds of mechanical interactions you don’t really see. You see bending, expansion/shrinkage, movement in proximity (like interdigitated fingers), and vibration, for instance, but we never get to see any hot silicon-on-silicon action. You know, where one part literally slides across another or rotates in contact with a surface or rubs in some other way. Largely because, well, it would be too hot. Among other problems.

 

Shifting Left

Designing Code, Breaking Code, and the Verification in Between

by Amelia Dalton

Like the venerable Kenny Rogers once said, “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…” In the verification game, much is the same. You have to know how to make the code, and you have to know how to break it. In this week’s Fish Fry, David Hsu (Synopsys) joins us to discuss the challenges of static verification and formal verification, how to “shift left”, and how to make code just to break it. Also this week, we investigate how hierarchical timing analysis may solve your sign-off timing troubles once and and for all.

 

Differentiation versus Diversity

Tilera’s Acquisition Means One Less CPU Company

by Jim Turley

Once there was a time when every company had its own unique CPU architecture. Then there was a time when pretty much everyone used the same CPU architecture. Guess which era we’re living in now.

Actually, we’ve experienced both of those extremes multiple times. We have a makings of an industry cycle here. Really early computer companies (Burroughs, National Cash Register, Amdahl, International Business Machines, Data General, Digital Equipment Corporation, etc.) each invented and supported its own proprietary computer architecture. Each processor was implemented in discrete logic and occupied an entire printed-circuit board. Probably several boards, in fact. Software had no commonality at all. IBM machines couldn’t run any DEC software, which didn’t understand NCR code, which was incompatible with DG equipment, and so on.

 

Go-Fast FPGA Design

Helpful Hot-Rodding Hints

by Kevin Morris

Most of us engineers are at least closet hot-rodders. It’s in our DNA. No matter how good a contraption is from the factory, we just can’t resist the temptation to tweak a few things in our own special way, and often that’s all about speed.

FPGA design, it turns out, is a big ‘ol blank canvas for hot-rodding. Even though we (fortunately) don’t have glossy convenience-store magazines adorned with scantily-clad models standing next to the latest tricked-out dev boards, FPGAs have all the tools we need to rev our creative motors in the never-ending quest for that extra little bit of personalized performance.

But, where do we start? Do FPGAs have a set of go-to hop-ups? Is there a “chopping and channeling” baseline for programmable logic design?

It turns out the answer is “yes.” And, just to get you started, here are five tips for turning up the boost on your next project:

 

Feed It Forward (And Back)

KLA-Tencor Helps Accommodate Variation

by Bryon Moyer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had resulted in marked improvements in his ability to access the people and places and resources that normatively-abled people took for granted. Curb cuts, wider paths, and ramps instead of stairs all meant that his wheelchair could go much farther than was previously possible.

But it wasn’t perfect. A cozy coffee shop might, for instance, have only a few tables near the entrance that a wheelchair could reach. They weren’t “handicapped only” tables; they were just near the door, and the tables farther in were too close together to allow passage.

So it was common for him to arrive, only to find that the tables that he could use were occupied (even while tables in the back were empty). In which case he had either to wait or to move on.

 

All’s Fair in Love and Power (Consumption)

Fairchild’s New Foray into Smart Power

by Amelia Dalton

Any engineer who is worth his or her salt probably knows the illustrious (and occasionally infamous) tale of Fairchild Semiconductor and the creation of Silicon Valley. Fairchild is certainly one of the most important companies in electronics history. But, what has Fairchild done for us lately? This week my guest is Saj Sahay of Fairchild Semiconductor, and we discuss three megatrends driving innovation in electronic design. It turns out Fairchild Semiconductor is back - with a bold new mission - and they’re doing some really cool stuff in the area of “Power Systems in Package”. As a bonus, we also find out what it’s like to take a run around not one but two olympic stadiums (without having to actually compete in the games). Additionally, we find out how your PCB can have its signal- and power-integrity cakes and eat them too... or something like that.

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