Integrating Hardies and Softies

by Dick Selwood

Winston Churchill once said that the United Kingdom and the United States are two nations divided by a single language. Sometimes it seems like that in an embedded development environment. In the green corner - the hardies. These are people who think in volts and transistors and will spend enormous effort to reduce watts burned by a system. In the red corner – the softies. Their thinking is dominated by efficient code execution time. The difference between the two is nicely encapsulated in the story of a UNIX based system that was burning excessive power: the processor never seemed to go into any form of standby mode. The hardies naturally blamed the softies, who in return disclaimed all responsibility and also pointed out it would be very hard to find a culprit in the vast number of lines of code in the system.

 

Creating a Virtual Factory

Averna’s Proligent Keeps Tabs and Makes Changes Where Needed

by Bryon Moyer

We in the semiconductor world live in a relatively self-contained environment. Processing is highly specialized, equipment is expensive and not really usable for anything else, and risks are high if something goes wrong.

So we tend to get a little, oh, inbred, with a few companies providing the variety of tools and services in a small-town supply chain.

 

The Design Automation Conference 2011

Gary Smith, The Return of the Woz, and Other Fun Stuff

by Amelia Dalton

In this week's Fish Fry, Amelia dishes the dirt on this year's Design Automation Conference. She attempts to unravel the mysteries posed by Gary Smith in his annual EDA analysis, and re-hashes both the awesome and the uncomfortable moments of this year's Steve Wozinak keynote. Also this week, she gives some details on the history of the Design Automation Conference, why there don't seem to be as many attendees as in years past, and why it's so hard to navigate the show floor. Don't miss out on your chance to win a Lattice ECP3 Versa Development Kit. You'll just have to listen to find out how you can win it.

 

Electronic Scalpel

Complementary E-Beam Lithography

by Bryon Moyer

Brain surgery is a complicated process. After all, they don’t call it “brain surgery” for nothing. And it’s not a one-man show: it’s a team operation. Someone’s got to… ahem… mellow you out before taking you to the OR. Someone’s got to shave a bald spot. Someone’s got to make sure everything is clean and germ-free. Someone has to give you the final giggly-gas (or whatever will send you into an oblivious slumber). Someone has to provide… access to the brain. And then, finally, when everything else is ready, you bring in what those in show-biz would call the “talent.”

 

No Escape

A Look at “Black Silicon”

by Bryon Moyer

There’s no such thing as “true black.” I mean, there’s the idea of it, the aspiration, but, so far, we have not been able to create a pure black in the real world. The bizarre realm of carbon nanotubage has gotten us close – very close – but still: it’s only close.

True black means that no light – nary a single photon – reflects off the surface. It’s all captured and absorbed. While this might have interesting artistic and philosophical ramifications, it also has a serious, practical impact. The good news is that, from this pragmatic standpoint, getting closer is still really good: we don’t need to be purists. (Philosophically, well, you’re on your own.)

 

Refining Innovation

Microchip’s new IDE, DAC Days And An App For Your Soul

by Amelia Dalton

In this week's Fish Fry, Amelia checks out some new intriguing iPhone apps including a DAC navigation app from Cadence, a couple new EE apps that might spark your fancy and even an app that will help you find inner peace (or at least that's what they claim). Also, she interviews Microchip Technology’s Development Tools Vice President Derek Carlson about their new IDE MPLABX and tries to figure out how their new software can help jump start your next project.

And remember to stay tuned for the nerdy giveaway this week...Amelia has sweetened the pot this week and she thinks you're going to like it.

 

Packing Them In

A Look at High-Density PC – er – PWBs and Persecution of Solder

by Bryon Moyer

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.

 

Does the Hype Get in the Way of the Message?

by Dick Selwood

I know most of you reading this are engineers and consequently never allow emotion to get in the way of logical decision making. So it would be unlikely that you would not take something seriously, just because the razzmatazz surrounding it was overstated: you wouldn’t react, either positively or negatively to marketing hype, would you? You would just evaluate the product on its technical merits, wouldn’t you?

All too often the marketing and PR teams try desperately to make extravagant claims to hide the essential ho-hum nature of the announcement. I have been there, and, every day, as I read the new product announcement press releases, the people writing them have my sympathy – at least some of the time.

 

What Lies Beneath

TI's Tiny Sensors, Icahn Wins (this time) and Rambus' Latest Legal Woes

by Amelia Dalton

In this week's Fish Fry, Amelia checks out Texas Instruments' itty bitty new digital sensor and investigates how this new technology may help usher in a new era of micro sensors and micro mechanics. Also this week, she looks into the most recent battle between Carl Icahn and the Board of Directors at Mentor Graphics, while she tries to sort through the latest litigation rumblings over at Rambus.

Amelia offers up a brand new nerdy giveaway this week...but you'll just have to tune in to find out how you can win!

 

The Vision Thing

New Tools at ESC Emphasize Presentation, Visualization

by Jim Turley

“If I could find it, I could fix it!”

So ran the advertising copy for a new logic analyzer, circa 1995. The sentiment is a familiar one. Programmers are generally smart people, and if they know where a bug is, they can usually swat it in short order. The problem is finding the bug in the first place—or even knowing that there is one.

This was a recurring theme at last week’s Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) event in downtown San Jose. A number of companies with whom I met showed off front-end tools that help hardware and software engineers find problems. It was the finding, not necessarily the fixing, that got most of the attention.

 

Board Market Mysteries

Unraveling the Paradox of PCB Tool Rankings

by Kevin Morris

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.

 

Kissing or Cussing Cousins?

Will FinFET and FD-SOI technology battle or co-exist peacefully?

by Bryon Moyer

What’s the difference between a FinFET and a FD-SOI transistor?

90°.

Admittedly, that’s the abridged version. And it would be met by howls of protest by the proponents of FinFETs and of FD-SOI transistors. Along with that right-angle rotation comes a ton of technology, accompanied by the skirmishing that comes with vested interests and big unknowns.

 

Cracking The Marketing Code

Intel Announces New Transistors and Cadence Snatches Up Another EDA Start-Up

by Amelia Dalton

This week, Amelia tries to crack the marketing code of Intel’s new tri-gate transistor announcement as she digs through the details to figure out how this new transistor technology will shape the future of semiconductor design. She also reports on Cadence’s new acquisition of Altos Design Automation and investigates how the newest rumblings at Cadence will affect the future of EDA360.

Did you know that video game creation is now considered art? Check out this week’s Fish Fry to find out how Amelia plans on reshaping the world of virtual conferences to include artful video game features.

 

Altera’s New Power Tool

Qsys Takes Embedded Design on FPGAs to the Second Generation

by Kevin Morris

One thing was crystal clear in last week’s Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose. FPGAs with embedded processors are about to take over the world.

Now, we don’t really mean the WHOLE world here - just the part of it that involves flexible embedded processing systems, of course. Still, if you look at embedded systems in use today, you’ll usually find some kind of programmable logic device sitting next to the processor. FPGA companies - being what they are - looked at all those boards and thought to themselves, “Hey, we could just slurp that processor right onto our FPGA!”

So Altera did just that... in 2001... as part of their “SOPC” strategy. It was called “Excalibur,” and it failed miserably.

 

Gearing Up for Rain

New Soft-Error-Tolerant Circuits

by Bryon Moyer

We don’t seem to mind the rain much. I mean, yeah, we’ll carry an umbrella if we think it might rain (except for places like Seattle where an umbrella is the signature of the tourist). But, to that point, really… what’s the harm of a little water?

A lot of water can be a problem. We’re not fish, after all. But a few drops in the hair is a long way from a long, cool drink in Lake Superior. Heck, we’ll even survive a dousing with a few gallons of Gatorade; pour it on!

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