Mar 31, 2015

Tanner to Join Mentor: Outsider Gets a Crew

posted by Bryon Moyer

Pencil_image_cr.jpgWay back in 2009, we took a look at Tanner – an EDA company marching to its own beat. They always seemed – and continue to seem – apart from the pack. We talk about the Big 3 in EDA – Synopsys, Cadence, and Mentor – and lots of little startups. Back then, there were a few other medium-sized companies – Springsoft, Atrenta, Apache and others – but many of those have been acquired, clearing out a space around the giants in the way Jupiter has cleared its orbit.

The story we had back then was about how Tanner seemed to work differently. It was like Apple when Apple was the creative oddball. The fact that their chip design focus was analog kept them out of the maelstrom that is the fight to forever push out the “CMOS is dead” predictions of the 90s (or whenever it was they started).

Tanner has continued to do its own thing all along, free of the burdens of ravenous shareholders, not afraid to embrace Windows as a productive platform, and catering to a loyal customer base. But that may be changing: they are becoming a part of Mentor Graphics. How much will change isn’t yet clear.

When you have a small(ish) company that’s been able to resist the not-always-useful pushes and pulls of stampeding crowds and stand its ground, you immediately have to wonder what’s going to happen once they become part of something more mainstream. Will their raised nail get hammered down to where the others are? Many acquiring companies are famous for imposing culture shock on new acquirees. Is that likely to happen here?

I posed that question to Mentor, and Robert Hum responded, saying that, “Mentor Graphics understands that Tanner EDA is unique, due both to its products and its culture.  It is our intent to preserve and amplify this uniqueness so that we continue to serve customers who appreciate the unique capabilities and customer experience that Tanner EDA tools offer.  The way we organize will reflect this intent.”

If that plays out, it will likely be good news for Tanner loyalists (and even employees).

There’s one other subtle aspect to this acquisition: Mentor will now be the only one of the Big 3 to have a MEMS design capability. Most MEMS design is done using either Coventor or Tanner tools (with SoftMEMS helping with the modeling). I remember asking Aart de Geus a couple years ago whether Synopsys planned to get involved with MEMS, and he sort of brushed it off as not being a big enough market to be interesting.

It’s not clear how important MEMS will be to Mentor. Their press release clearly shows a focus on the analog/mixed signal (AMS) aspect of the business. On the other hand, Mentor has a wider range of offerings than their behemoth brethren, like their FloTHERM product line, mechanical analysis, and embedded design. So MEMS might be a good fit.

We’ll have to see how it all settles out in a year or so.

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Mar 27, 2015

Intel Buying Altera? We Totally Called It.

posted by Kevin Morris

Rumors abound today that Intel is in negotiations to buy Altera - a deal that could be worth over ten billion. If so, it would be the largest acquisition in Intel's history.

We have no confirmation from either company that such a deal is in play, but we did a pretty thorough analysis of the situation last June in this article:

http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20140624-intel/

What do you think?

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Mar 26, 2015

New Membranes, ASICs, and Packages for Akustica

posted by Bryon Moyer

1-BST-20945_cr_ret.jpgAkustica recently announced a round of microphone design and manufacturing improvements, as embodied in two new high-signal-to-noise (SNR) microphones. They’ve redesigned the microphone membrane, the accompanying ASIC, and, in one case, the package. Yeah… that doesn’t leave much untouched.

They’re not being completely open about exactly what the changes are in detail, but the membrane change involves new materials (undisclosed) and tweaks to the thicknesses of the materials in the stack. The ASIC redesign has resulted in lower power, bringing the operating power in one of the new microphones (the AKU151) down to 60 µA.

Two new microphones were announced; one (the AKU350), is a 67-dB-SNR unit with 1-dB matching – intended for multi-microphone installations where matching is important. The other, the aforementioned 151, is a 65-dB unit in a small top-port metal-lid package. That package/performance is also new; apparently this isn’t easy or obvious to do, and, again, with no detail disclosed, they say they can do it while maintaining high performance.

One of the key messages encircling the announcement of the specific devices is the fact that Akustica/Bosch have design, manufacturing, and packaging in-house. Their point is that, given the notorious interactions between microphones and packages, you have to control all three – and be able to model and simulate the entire unit – to capture the combined effects of everything.

This would appear to be a point intended to distinguish themselves from other companies, like, say, Vesper, that focus on the MEMS die and have others do the packaging. The story makes sense, at least conceptually. But it’s also the kind of story that can be trumped by an “existence proof”: if other guys can, by hook or crook, deliver without owning all the pieces (I’m not saying they can or can’t), then the “everything in-house” argument loses some steam. For now (at least), it probably helps sales.

I continue to be amazed at the wide array of microphones – analog and digital – and the array of package options out there. It’s hard to imagine that there are so many homes for microphones that have such differing requirements. Hmmm… shows how much I know…

You can get more info on Akustica’s new devices from their announcement.

 

(Image courtesy Akustica/Bosch)

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