A Look at High-Density PC – er – PWBs and Persecution of Solder
The world of PC boards – or, as they seem to be more widely called in the official literature, “printed wiring boards” or PWBs – has been a conservative one. For the most part, things are still done today like they were a few decades ago. Sure, dimensions have gone down, and we can do many, many more layers, and we can put passives on the back side, but, except for the bleeding edge, we pretty much do things the old-fashioned way: etch metal off of a board made out of some kind of resinous material, glue several of those together if needed, poke parts through the holes or stick them onto pads, and run the whole thing through a wave-soldering line. Some wires (particularly, white ones) may even be soldered by hand.
Unraveling the Paradox of PCB Tool Rankings
We talk a lot about chips around here - custom ICs, FPGAs, embedded processors, memories - silicon gets a good bit of coverage in the pages of EEJ. However, all that silicon has to eventually get parked and connected up somewhere, and that somewhere is usually on a PCB.
Unlike chips, unless you’re shipping your product with a standard board or module, you have to design the board yourself, specifically for your product. That means, although we spend way more time talking about design tools for the creation of custom and customized chips, most of the EDA tools actually being used out there in the world are doing board design.
They Want It
Security is an arms race. The good guys come up with new ways to hide data and the bad guys eventually find ways to break in anyway. You update your security; they update their attacks. In true arms race fashion, both sides spend a lot of time and energy to stay right where they are.
And, like a grimmer sort of arms race, civilians can wind up among the casualties. In our case, engineers are learning that they need to include security features in their products whether they like it or not. Seemingly innocuous products like vending machines, home appliances, and handheld gizmos now often need security features because somebody might hack the device and make something unpleasant happen. As we design and sell more of these gizmos, their security becomes more of an issue.
If You Dig a Hole Through the Bottom of the EDA Market - Do You Wind Up in China?
No one has ever made the mistake of calling Altium “timid.” As long as they’ve been in business, the company co-founded by Nick Martin has been making bold and controversial moves. This week, Altium’s announcement that their company headquarters would be moving from Sydney, Australia to Shanghai, China is no exception.
In the beginning, the company provided the alterna-tool for designers who wanted to do their own PCB layout but didn’t have big corporate budgets. ProTel made a name for themselves in low-cost desktop PCB design. Competing with rivals like OrCad (now part of Cadence), the company put the world on notice that they weren’t content with the status-quo in EDA and that they were going to be following their own drummer. ProTel became synonymous with low-cost PCB design.
Texas Instruments Buys National Semiconductor, Re-learning the Lesson of the Osborne 1 and an O-Scope That Will Run on Your iPhone
In this week’s Fish Fry, Amelia tries to unravel the complexities of Texas Instruments’ recent (planned) acquisition of National Semiconductor, celebrates the birthday of the world’s oldest portable computer and checks out a new o-scope coming to your iPhone or iPad.
A Hardware Design Language for All, Apps for Your O-Scopes and Chip-Scale Wireless Networks
In this week’s Fish Fry, Amelia investigates the re-birth of an old system language coming back into style, delves into the world of cloud-based applications for oscilloscope users and checks out a cool new way to connect the pieces on your board using a nano-wireless router. Also this week, she reveals super cool nerdy giveaway and offers up a surprise award to next week’s winner.
Multi-core, Microservers and NASA’s Open Source Summit
In this week’s Fish Fry, Amelia debates the nature of the word multi-core and examines some new standards that will hopefully make multi-core implementation easier in the future. Amelia also digs into the newest Intel/ARM battle in the world of Servers, investigates some fuzzy TSA Math and looks forward to the first annual NASA Open Source Summit. Also this week, she offers up a new way to create energy (coming to a pond near you) and serves up a brand new nerdy giveaway.
Managing and Optimizing Off-chip Interfaces
It wasn’t very long ago that managing off-chip interconnect was a no-brainer. The interconnect path was very straight forward. It started at a pad on the chip, went out through a bond wire then connected to a metal lead, which connected to the PCB. The number of “interfaces” was small; a total of 4 counting the pad on the chip, the bond wire, the metal lead and the PCB, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Until the coming of the railway, many European towns, in addition to their regular market, would have an annual fair. These were important events, with merchants travelling long distances to sell exotic goods. The privilege of holding a fair was jealously guarded, and the license or charter was given or withheld by a ruler. In my home town, Winchester, the Bishop had the license for the fair and charged the traders rent. To ensure that they got value for their money, the Bishop closed all the normal shops in the town for the duration of the fair. In time, some of the fairs became known for specialisms: for example Frankfurt was the centre for books.
Less is More, More is Too Much, and Harnessing The World Around Us
In Fish Fry this week, Amelia tries to unravel the “aloha” of electronic engineering terminology; what we can do to make more power, use less power, and how we can measure exactly how much power our design is using - or is going to use. In this “power” themed episode, she investigates Microsemi’s new solar energy announcement, looks into a cool new way to create wave energy and offers up some ideas on how we can use less energy in our systems. She also checks out a new tool that will help you understand the the power budget of your next design and reflects upon a very old technology being re-born in today’s modern shipping technology.
Tribal Knowledge from Synopsys and Xilinx
You might think FPGA companies wouldn’t care much about people doing FPGA-based prototypes. After all, these aren’t the people that design an FPGA into their product and then buy a bazillion for manufacturing use. They buy a single-digit number of big parts, and they’re set.
You might also think that EDA companies wouldn’t be all fired up to support FPGA-based prototypers either. After all, aside from a few prototyping boards, and maybe some partitioning software, what do they stand to gain by making the prototyper successful?
Fish Fry - March 4, 2011
In Fish Fry this week, Amelia dives into the wild world of FPGA prototyping and offers up an elixir that might just solve all of our prototyping problems. She also investigates a new trend that brings processors and FPGA fabric together in off-the-shelf embedded systems and a new invention that could bring the Star Trek food replicator to life. Also this week, she announces the winner of last week's nerdy giveaway and offers up a new one to chew on.
Kozio Makes Self-Test Easy
In many primary school cafeterias, they serve students out of plates or trays with little sub-divisions for each part of the meal - a big one for the protein, smaller ones for the vegetable and starch. If you can, suppress your gag reflex for long enough to go back and place yourself there, at the school cafeteria table, looking at your meal. Perhaps the subliminal influence of those partitions instilled a compulsion to keep those parts from touching. Many a kid has emerged with the credo that no mashed potatoes should ever come in contact with the peas.
Fast forward that kid a few decades and he’s midway through his embedded design career. He’s putting down hardware - processors, busses, memory, and peripherals. Then there will be middleware - drivers and such. Then there is (maybe) an operating system or RTOS, and finally application software. One of the main design goals for each of these elements is to minimize contact with the others - keeping it nicely in its partition where no gravy will get on the green beans. This practice has served us well for decades and will continue into the future.
Cadence PDN Tool Tames Tricky Power Networks
When doing a digital design, the power network is the last thing you want to worry about. It can’t be that difficult, right? You got your power and your ground and some big ‘ol FR4 acreage with nothing but copper as far as the eye can see...
Well, nothing but copper and a few vias, actually. Oh, and this part here where it gets narrow - and this part over here where there seems to be some nasty resonant frequency that drops the output... Wow, our circuit totally doesn’t work. What’s the deal?
Altium Designer 10 Kicks Some Serious Sand
Ask someone who sells PCB software for Cadence or Mentor Graphics how often they end up competing with Altium for design seats, and you’re likely to get an answer something like, “Way more often than we’d like.” There is a good reason for this. Altium (formerly ProTel) has been biting the ankles of the big EDA companies, causing trouble for a couple decades on the low-end of board design tools, and, more recently, they’ve been gnawing their way up from the ankles to places where it starts to actually hurt.
Back in the ProTel days, the tools were the working-man’s PCB software. If you weren’t into investing a small fortune in complex workstation-based board design tools, you could snap up a copy of ProTel for a pittance, fire it up on your PC, and do everything you needed to do - without having to hire a CAD department or take out a loan. In recent years, Altium has morphed their tool suite into a complete, integrated solution for electronic product design - including hardware and software.