Altium Alters Course
Altium has long been a standout in the EDA industry. The company got its start as Protel - a supplier of affordable desktop PCB layout solutions. When the big EDA suppliers were exclusively selling expensive, workstation-based, enterprise-level board design systems, Altium (Protel) provided a strong, usable desktop solution for everybody else - the people who didn’t have a huge design tool budget.
As Protel evolved into Altium, their differences from the pack became more pronounced. Altium became the company of vision, with the goal of supplying the masses with a comprehensive tool suite including design capture, FPGA design, embedded software development, and trusty-old board layout. They wanted to give you an affordable desktop solution that could take your product design from soup to nuts, as long as you weren’t doing custom IC design.
DSP, CES, and The Hapifork
Hello from the Lone Star State! Fish Fry is on the road this week, coming to you from beautiful Austin, Texas, "The Live Music Capital of The World". Nothing says Texas like a little digital signal processing, so we're going to chat live with Pierrick Vulliez (CTO and Founder - 4DSP) about FMCs, DSP, FPGAs, and a whole lot more. Wait, what am I doing in Austin while the Consumer Electronics Show is going on in Las Vegas? Never fear, we'll have a live report from Bryon Moyer, our reporter on the scene at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.
Alta Devices Changes the Rules
Batteries are the bane of portable device design.
Just about every portable or mobile device or system that does anything interesting - that is, anything that would require a “real” chip like a processor or FPGA, or anything that does meaningful real-world interaction like drive a display or spin a motor - needs a significant amount of power. When you can’t plug into the wall or the grid, your options are pretty narrow. The essence of your design becomes a tradeoff between the capability and longevity of your device and battery size, weight, and cost.
We’ve all briefly considered solar, of course. The romantic idea of a perpetually powered system gleaning what it needs from nothing more than the ambient light is a powerful aphrodisiac. We want to go on a date with solar. We buy flowers. We show up at solar’s door in our spiffiest engineering outfit.
The Future Belongs to Programmers
Three thousand dollars is lot to pay for a radio.
A friend of mine recently bought herself a nice new car. Not Rolls-Royce or Ferrari nice, but more in the Mercedes/Jaguar/Lexus category. And one of the optional upgrades she decided to spring for was a $3000 “Premium Comfort” package. Being both an engineering nerd and a car nut, I was curious about what actually went into this $3K bundle of goodies.
From what I could tell, it was mostly just firmware upgrades for little things like the keyless entry, cruise control, or GPS features. She wasn’t paying for any actual hardware, just for bits. The only tangible item in the whole option package was an upgraded radio, which probably cost the automaker about $75 in extra hardware. So by implication, the firmware upgrades cost my friend about $2925.
The Lighter Side of EE in 2012
Here at EE Journal, we have always believed that engineering is fun. As engineers ourselves, we know that there is a special kind of reward in solving problems and creating new and interesting things with technology. We have always believed that one of the things that really differentiate EE Journal from other trade publications is our sense of humor and fun. We don’t think engineering has to be a humdrum drone of microwatts and gigabits, and we know you don’t either.
Our Best of 2012
It was an awesome year here at EE Journal. Technology continued to evolve at a breakneck pace, and the EE Journal editorial team continued to drink beer. Oh, and (luckily, prior to those beers) we wrote down our thoughts and observations about what was going on in the world of electronic design. Apparently some of what we wrote was either interesting or inflammatory enough that bazillions of you found your way to the pages of EEJournal.com to read, comment, critique, disagree, or just stare in amazement at the pictures.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way before we talk about GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ new 14XM process. In electronics, almost nothing is actually what it is named. That’s because names are generally created by marketers rather than engineers. This is actually a good thing. Engineers are way too honest and specific. If engineers named solar panels, instead of “200W Solar Panel” we’d have “Photovoltaic Panel With Somewhere Between 0W and 140W Output That Could, Theoretically, On A Perfect (and Cold) Day At The Equator, With Some Cloud Edge Boost, Within the First Six Months of Deployment, With a Perfectly Clean Glass, Produce Close to 196W Output”
See? Engineering-generated titles don’t just roll off the tongue.
Altera and ARM Roll FPGA/SoC Tools
We’ve talked a lot about the awesome combination of ARM-based processors with FPGA fabric in these pages. The power of a state-of-the-art dual-core ARM matched with the almost infinite flexibility of an FPGA brings to mind so many fantastic possibilities that it’s hard to know where to begin. This combination truly represents a new breed of SoC that is capable of solving a great number of problems that could never be addressed before, and with Altera and Xilinx both now marketing such devices, the excitement has only just begun.
We have also discussed (in a different tone of voice, of course) the myriad challenges posed by this new architecture. In the hardware, we see a platform that is capable of delivering on the Grand Vision of software/hardware co-design - where each function is carried out by the chip in whichever mode (software or hardware) best suits the design goals of power, performance, and cost. However, being able to realize that vision will take a lot more than hardware - it will take tools and IP the likes of which the industry has not yet seen.
CRI Behind the Scenes
When we are worried about our security at home, we usually call a locksmith - a security expert that can analyze our defenses, weigh them against threats (both known and imagined), and help us implement security measures that will meet our goals. This is a difficult job for people to do on their own. Paranoia creeps in, as does complacency. We have a difficult time doing a realistic assessment of our own vulnerabilities and of the capabilities and determination of our adversaries. It helps to bring in a professional.
For example, we may want to wear a foil hat to protect us against prying brain scans deployed from silent black helicopters. This cranial faraday cage is our security blanket. A professional, however, may have additional insight. He may understand that “they” aren’t willing to pay thousands of dollars per hour in helicopter deployment - just to snatch the secret recipe for blueberry crumbcake out of our heads as we’re preparing our morning breakfast. He may also understand the limitations and practical considerations of current mind-reading rays. He might advise us that our security anxiety would be better focused by not having the password for all of our online accounts set as “password.”
Synopsys Upgrades HAPS
Verification and test have always faced a tricky paradox: How do you build equipment to test and verify the biggest, fastest devices ever created?
After all, it stands to reason that the tester has to be faster than the thing it’s testing, and the prototype has to be bigger than the thing it’s prototyping. It means that those folks have to always be running ahead of the fastest runners in order to handle the problem.
When prototyping large SoC designs, this issue has always been handled by throwing a wall of FPGAs at the problem. Even though this poses significant challenges with issues like design partitioning and mapping the design to an FPGA-friendly format, it has been the most effective method available for getting a usable prototype up and working.