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It Has to Get Better

A Look Back at 2011

Yawn!  Another boring year of exponential improvement in capability, cost, and power consumption.  Bo-o-oring.  When will something truly exciting happen in electronics?  It’s just the same old grind, year after year, with nothing all that interesting going on.

Moore’s Law is a harsh mistress.  It sets the bar for our industry at an incredibly high level.  If you manage a 2x improvement in everything you do every two years, there’s not really anything of interest to report.  You met the standard – status quo – move on along – nothing to see here.  Furthermore, if you try to brag that you’ve “doubled” this or “ten-times’d” that, you get thrown into the bin of “marketing-hypers” and your credibility plummets.

In truth, our industry is doing something unprecedented in human history.  We use buzzwords like “revolutionary,” “cutting-edge,” “game-changing,” and many more – so often that our audience has become numb.  In reality, though, the majority of the time our industry uses those words, it’s because they are actually true.  In any other industry, our improvement metrics would be earth-shattering news, but in electronics, it’s just another day at the office.

In 1980, the average US passenger car got 24.3 miles per gallon.  By 2010, that figure had improved to 33.7 MPG – an improvement factor of 1.38x over 30 years.  Wow, pretty respectable job, automotive engineers!  During that same time, however, we in the electronics industry generated something like a factor of 32,000x improvement on our most important metrics.  Perhaps if EEs had been in charge of cars since 1980, we would be getting about 800,000 miles per gallon today. This, by the way, more than any other argument, makes me believe in the future of the electric car.  Come on – give it over to some people who know how to make REAL engineering progress!

Yes, we’ve all heard the same, tired arguments before.  And, yes, physicist in the back of the room, we know that there isn’t enough energy in a gallon of gasoline to do anything even close to that.  Some EE’s take thermo too.  However, in 1983 I listened to a fellow from IBM research (also a physicist) give a talk on how Moore’s Law was due to end in the mid 1980s – because the absolute limit of physics on semiconductor features was ONE micron.  More than 25 years and 12 process generations later – he’s still wrong.  I wonder what kind of gas mileage he’s getting today.

Rest assured that, here at EE Journal, we give engineering the respect it deserves.  We live in a constant state of amazement at what you all accomplish every day and every year… and we are proud to be a small part of it.  We like to think of ourselves as a mirror in some ways – reflecting back to you what you and your peers are doing, and chronicling the miraculous evolution of electronics technology. 

With that in mind, we went back to see what you were most interested in reading about yourselves in 2011.  We actually keep some pretty accurate statistics on what topics are being read, and we often find the results quite interesting.  Over the course of 2011, we at EE Journal published over 250 feature articles, over 1,000 news stories, over 500 white papers, over 100 webcasts and podcasts, and over 1,800 “Fresh Bytes.”  That’s quite a lot of material for you all to peruse – all 200,000 of you, that is. 

So – what did you read about in 2011?

Our new Fresh Bytes column was far-and-away the blockbuster of 2011 for EE Journal.  It went from zero to the biggest traffic draw on the site on a daily basis.  Editor Laura Domela kept us all hypnotized with her continual stream of crazy, nerdy, bite-sized bits of intriguing information.  She apparently has even more techno-strangeness on tap for 2012, so stay tuned.

EDA tools, actually, were the most read topic.  I know, weird, huh?  However, it’s not so much the part of EDA I was expecting.  Sure, you read a lot about Synopsys, Cadence, Mentor, and Magma, but in 2011 you read even more about Mathworks and Altium – which were the subject of two of our top ten articles:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110420-mathworks

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110208-kicksand 

Your interest in higher levels of design abstraction is not limited to Matlab and Simulink, however.  Any time we write about high-level synthesis or next-generation design methodologies, we seem to draw a crowd.  Like this article on C-to-FPGA methodologies:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110621-nextgen

Jim Turley’s most-read tome was about Xilinx’s new line of Zynq processors, or “extensible processing platforms” as they say in the marketing department.  Zynq represents a new category of devices for embedded developers with high-end embedded processors combined with a rich set of peripherals and a wealth of FPGA fabric – all on one chip:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110301-zynq

You apparently liked that idea so much that you also put Altera’s announcement of their similar product – SoC FPGA, also in the top 10 most-read articles of 2011:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20111011-shaking

Jim also drew a crowd with his review of NXP’s new $2 multi-core micro.  Apparently a lot of you want to welcome in the era of multi-core computing by being extreme cheapskates:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110119-nxp

As one might expect from our FPGA heritage here at EE Journal (we published FPGA Journal for almost 8 years before EE Journal was launched), you have a lot of enthusiasm for anything FPGA related.  Articles about Xilinx and Altera drew attention as one might expect – two of the top 20 most-read articles were about Xilinx and four were about Altera. 

Xilinx pulled the numbers when they combined FPGAs with high-level design – acquiring AutoESL:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110201-xilinx

And Altera seems to draw attention when they talk about the future, such as optical FPGAs:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110329-altera

…and when they detailed their 28nm family line-ups:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110125-altera

Don’t think that the top 2 FPGA players get all the attention, because they don’t.  Also in our top 20 most-read articles were pieces on the smaller players in programmable logic such as our look at Lattice CEO Darin Billerbeck:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110531-lattice

And our look at the ever-enigmatic Tabula and their innovative approach to cloud-based tools:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110215-tabula

Bryon Moyer captured your collective attention when he detailed ARM’s sometimes confusing lineup of processor architectures:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110822-decoderring 

And many of you flocked to Amelia Dalton’s new Fish Fry weekly podcast.  The most popular one to date?  Her interview with Xilinx CEO Moshe Gavrielov:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110617_fishfry

Europe editor Dick Selwood stirred some controversy when he approached the topic of Microsoft running on ARM:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110126-arm

…and when he dared to ask whether or not the EDA industry even has a future:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110411-eda

Of course, you also predictably went bonkers on our lighter side, including our April Fools articles and those other things we wrote when we just couldn’t bring ourselves to scribble one more character about some over-hyped, under-delivering, coma-inducing press release, and instead presented you with something that seemed like a really good idea when we were mowing the lawn – like the answer to the ultimate chip:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110503-onlychip

Thank you all so much for your support during 2011!  We are excited to bring you a 2012 EE Journal with even more of what you like, with some cool new stuff thrown into the mix.  So, keep doing what you do – kicking the butts of all those other engineering disciplines out there, and we’ll keep doing what we do – telling your story to the world.

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