Black Hats, FPGAs, and GPS Spoofs
Welcome to the Big Top of EE Fun, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve got Black Hat hackers, GPS spoofers, and in the center ring, a serious FPGA heavy hitter. This week I chat with Jeff Waters (Senior VP and General Manager at Altera) about how FPGAs can differentiate your design from the next guy’s ASSP, how FPGAs are making their way into the automotive market, and what make and model Jeff would pick as his dream car.
Altera’s CTO Weighs In on the Future
We have often discussed the many ramifications of Moore’s Law in these pages. Of course, chips continue to get exponentially cheaper, faster, more capable, and more efficient. Also of course, the fixed costs of making a new chip continue to get exponentially higher. If one combines these two trends, one sees that we must be increasingly careful on what chips we choose to make. Any company setting out to design a new chunk of leading-node silicon these days must be quite certain that they are building something that either works in a wide range of diverse applications or solves a critical problem in a single application with enormous production volume. Otherwise, the amortized fixed costs make the project infeasible.
We’re talking standards this week -- from the LCD Cartel "standardizing" the prices of their TFTs (otherwise called "price-fixing") to the standards we all need to employ to make sure our IP works the way we intend. I interview Ian Mackintosh (President - OCP-IP) about why IP standards are important, how OCP-IP can help us all get on the same IP page, and how Ian is trying to help us all become managers in our spare time.
Xilinx Shipping Artix Low-Cost FPGAs
Xilinx has announced that they are now shipping the first members of the new 28nm, low-cost, Artix family, rounding out the lineup of three 28nm families they announced a couple of years ago. The Artix-7 A100T device has now “shipped” and is in the hands of eager engineers, ready to push their next design to the very edge of possibility.
Starting with the 28nm process node, Xilinx re-named their product families. In the old days (with “today” being counted as one of the “old days” already), we had Virtex and Spartan. Virtex was the bad-ass, balls-to-the-wall, all-the-FPGA-we-can-pack-onto-a-slice-of-silicon-at-any-price family. Spartan was, as its name implied, the economical, stripped-down, cost-is-king family. Life was simple. The price difference between the top-of-the-line Virtex and the gimme-a-pound-o-them-FPGAs Spartan could be 1000x.
Why Agile Must Come to Hardware
Just over a decade ago, 17 frustrated software engineers made a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain in Utah. (OK, they really just went to a resort for a boondoggle, but bear with us here). After several days of soul-searching, they descended from the mountain with a manifesto that would forever change the face of software development. The Agile Manifesto codified what coders had been thinking and saying for years: The waterfall development process - the prime directive for professional-grade software development for most of the history of software development itself - was badly broken.
Uniquify Makes Silicon Happen
Do you dream of silicon? Do those dreams involve full-chip implementation? (Man, you are a serious nerd). This Fish Fry dives into the dreamy details of Uniquify’s ASIC design flows, custom IP, and making your silicon dreams come true.
Why the Bandwidth Glut May End Someday
Recently, I saw an ad by a major US carrier talking about the amazing capabilities of their 4GB/month data plan. According to the commercial, this amazing plan for $30 USD/month will allow you to get up to 400,000 emails per month, download up to 1,100 songs, or do up to 34 days of continuous GPS operation. All from your smartphone.
Bear with me here, while we break that down a bit.
400,000 emails in one month is over 13,000 per day. Or over 9 per minute. An email about every six seconds, all 24 hours of every day of the month. That’s a lot of thumb typing. 1,100 songs? I don’t think you could buy them that fast. That’s at least 55 hours of music - if you listened to each of your 3-minute pop tracks just once. 34 days of GPS? How one manages 34 days of continuous anything during a typical month remains a bit of a mystery.
From Space Travel to RTL Analysis and Back Again
In this week’s Fish Fry we look into Excalibur Almaz’s plans to launch people into space. We investigate how they plan to get their space tourism business off the ground, what kind of space technology they are going to employ, and what their motivations may be for launching this high-flying company. In the second half of the broadcast, I ask Shakeel Jeeawoody (Blue Pearl Software) what Blue Pearl is all about, how they are working with Synopsys within the Symplify Pro platform, and what was happening at their recent Design Automation Conference panel.
The Myth of ASIC Replacement
With the predictability of a sunrise, the Moore’s Law heartbeat has throbbed its way into the collective consciousness of electronic designers. Every two years or so, the industry visits upon itself a new semiconductor process node, and the implications of that change ripple across the surface of the already-turbulent waters of the industry. Each time, we are amazed anew. Each time, we have to re-write our understanding. Each time, we are emboldened to go out into the world and announce, “Now, we have finally arrived! FPGAs can replace ASICs once and for all!” Then, we see our shadow and go back underground for two more years of winter.
The Importance of Fun Projects in Engineering
Most little kids want to grow up to be cowboys, ballerinas, astronauts, or firemen. Not you. You wanted to be an engineer, didn’t you? You wanted to make stuff.
I’m willing bet you didn’t become an engineer or a programmer by accident. You chose that career. You weren’t born into it. You probably didn’t inherit your father’s engineering practice. Your family doesn’t come from a long line of engineers that expected you to uphold the family tradition. You weren’t assigned to Job Classification 35.984.001 by an immense and bureaucratic government agency.
You’re an engineer because you like it.