Embedded Instrumentation Boosts Boards to Emulator Status
FPGAs are clearly the go-to technology for prototyping large ASIC/SoC designs. Whether you’re custom-designing your own prototype, using an off-the-shelf prototyping board, or plunking down the really big bucks for a full-blown emulator, FPGAs are at the heart of the prototyping system. Their reprogrammability allows you to get hardware-speed performance out of your prototype orders of magnitude faster than simulation-based methods. If you’re trying to verify a complex SoC or write and debug software before the hardware is ready, there is really no option but an FPGA-based hardware prototype.
There are basically two options for FPGA-based prototyping - simple prototyping boards and emulators.
D2S Simulates for Mask Writing
A dozen or so years ago, chipmakers ran into an issue. Features on chips were getting too small to print, and fundamental changes in how they were being printed (ahem: EUV) were long delayed.
The problem is that you’re not supposed to be able to get good feature resolution for feature sizes too far below the wavelength of light used to expose the wafer. The smaller you go, the worse things get. And these days, we’re small.
The saving grace came in two forms. You might think of one as pre-distortion: if the end of a line is going to get shortened and rounded, then you use a mask that has the line slightly lengthened and fattened at the end so that it winds up closer to what you intended.
Where in the world will Fish Fry take us this week? First, we’re going to a take quick stroll by the most recent Raspberry Pi news, then it’s on over to some “Magic Finger” technology being developed by the Universities of Toronto and Alberta, and then we'll drive into EDA land with Bill Neifert (Carbon Design Systems- CTO). Bill is going to chat with me about Carbon Design Systems's recent collaboration with Samsung, how $4 million dollars in venture funding comes into play, and what exactly Carbon is going to do with all that cashola.
Mergers, Patents, and a New Family of FPGAs
The world of electronic design can change in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, things you thought were tried and true have flipped the script. This week we’re checking out why Synopsys decided to acquire emulation powerhouse Eve, how non-volatile memory companies Kilopass and Sidense are settling their patent skirmishes (or not), and how Microsemi is shaking up the FPGA market with their new SmartFusion2 family of FPGAs.
Coventor Brings In a New CTO
A number of years ago, Coventor created a program called SEMulator 3D. Its target usage was for developing MEMS processes and devices, MEMS devices traditionally having the unfortunate characteristic that a specific device typically required a specific process. Coventor refers to it as “virtual fabrication” since it can abstract and model the steps used to fabricate a MEMS wafer.
One of their customers was IBM, and one of the people at IBM working with the tool thought that it would be useful for silicon processes as well. After all, some details and occasional strange materials aside, silicon circuits and MEMS chips are made the same way.
How many of you have gotten lost in your own corporate office building? Maybe it was your first week on the job? As hard as it is for us to navigate our own buildings, can you imagine what it's like for emergency responders? In this week’s Fish Fry we check out a new real-time 3D mapping prototype being developed by MIT and examine how it could revolutionize the way we navigate the world around us. Also this week, I interview Steve Yang (President and Founder - ICScape). Steve and I chat about how ICScape can help your timing closure problems, what their tool suite looks like, and what’s ahead for this new EDA startup from China.
Sometimes it feels like we’re just inching along toward innovation. Sometimes it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants toward the future without a seatbelt in sight. This week we’re talking about Intel’s long-range plans for a 5nm process node, why ESL should be playing a big role in your next low power design, and even why the cool kids aren't using discrete components for power supplies anymore.
This week’s Fish Fry has it all - remote-controlled cockroaches, Raspberry Pis, and some design verification thrown in for fun. I dig into the details of a new neurostimulation system designed to create cockroach biobots, why getting your hands on a new Raspberry Pi computer may get a whole lot easier, and why verification is one of the most challenging engineering problems today. I interview Dave Rinehart (Vice President, Aldec) about how to solve your verification struggles, how Aldec is carving out a nice slice of the EDA pie, and what meal Dave is most famous for.
This week we’re talking mixed signals. My guest is Mladen Nizic (Cadence) and we’re talking about a brand new book published just a couple weeks ago called “Mixed-Signal Methodology Guide”. Mladen and I chat about who this book is for, what companies collaborated to make this manual happen, and even where mixed-signal education is headed. Also this week, I check out Altera’s newly released roadmap for 20nm and a new “magic carpet" that can not only map a person’s individual walking patterns but also predict when they are going to fall.
Technology is supposed to make us more efficient, but one of the great time-wasters of all time, the meeting, has yet to disappear. OK, ok, I know… Meetings can be useful for communication, and communication is increasingly important as people get busier and busier and have no time to communicate. So a well-planned, well-executed, to-the-point meeting can be a good thing.
What has changed is the need for people to be physically present: conference calls have taken the place of face-to-face meetings in many areas, facilitating communication without the overhead of having to go somewhere else. Those meetings typically consist of an organizer that sets things up and then participants that call in to participate.
SystemC, Advanced Verification, and Vehicular Wi-Fi
Get your motor runnin’ folks, we’re talking verification this week. In a special Fish Fry interview double-header, I chat with Brett Cline (Forte Design Systems) about what Forte’s SystemC synthesis tools look like, what’s behind their collaboration with High IP, and what his secret ingredient is for the best Bloody Mary. I also talk with Graham Bell (Real Intent) about the struggles of advanced verification, what their tool flow looks like, why Real Intent isn’t just a bug-hunting tool, and why foosball is like accelerated advanced verification signoff.
Verifying internal design states is the unheralded bugbear of chip design today. Even the preliminary step of identifying and exercising the panoply of operating modes is fraught, largely due to design complexity. As an extreme example, transistor counts for Intel’s newest chips now top 1.4 billion.
The introduction of random test methodology several years back helped ease the burden of creating sufficiently comprehensive tests. However, few would leave the task of verifying critical cases strictly to chance – and for good reason. Consider the travails I witnessed recently at one Mentor customer, a Bay Area semiconductor company in the high-performance network infrastructure market.
Patents, IEEE for EDA, and Sting’s Sister
Patent litigation - can't live with it, can't survive without it. This week we're checking some recent rumblings in patent litigation. We're even bringing in a council person to help mediate the fight. Ok, not really. My guest is Dontatella Sciuto, the current president of the IEEE Council for EDA. Donatella and I chat about what the IEEE Council for EDA is all about, what project the Council plans on attacking next, and why Donatella can call herself Sting’s sister.
Picture yourself living in a big city with lots of traffic. That could be anywhere in the world. Now picture that city with a robust subway/rail system (in other words, not busses that also have to contend with traffic). Admittedly, that narrows things down (to places mostly outside the US, but never mind… work with me here.)
In this city, you have a choice. When you want to go from your home to your work (both within the city), you could drive the entire distance. Or, if you were lucky, you could take public transit the entire distance and not use your car at all. Perhaps you wouldn’t even need to own a car.
SoftMEMS Facilitates IC/MEMS Co-design
Let’s say you form a group in the United States with the purpose of setting up “offices” or camps in various impoverished foreign countries for the purposes of helping the local denizens. You know, an NGO kind of thing.
If you’re gathering a team of typical Americans (well, typical except for their willingness to go live in harsh foreign conditions), then it’s unlikely that you’ll be blessed with large numbers of people speaking obscure Amazonian or Khoisan or Altaic languages. So if you all just hop on a plane one day and go set up shop, you’re going to have a hard time getting things done.