Tektronix Shakes Up Prototyping

Embedded Instrumentation Boosts Boards to Emulator Status

by Kevin Morris

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.


From Russia With Love

by Amelia Dalton

Saddle up comrades, we're heading over to the mighty land of Russia. In our first story, we're delving into the sci-fi-esque details of the "2045 Initiative", examining how they plan on achieving human immortality by 2045, and investigating the inner workings of their first android prototype "Alissa". Then, in another Russia-related story, we look into a new software-for-chartity fundraiser launched by Excelsior Software and tell you how you can participate in this program. Also this week, I interview Rob Frissel (Atmel) about the most recent advances in touchscreen technology for laptops and notebooks, how LCD noise comes into play, and how soon we can use these new technological advances in our own designs.


The Whole Wide World

Opal Kelly Connects FPGAs to USB 3.0

by Kevin Morris

We often talk about your FPGA projects in these pages as if they were your whole universe. We know they’re not. Most often, your FPGA project is a small part of a bigger task, and the FPGA is acting as a sub-part - ranging from the glue that sticks incompatible parts together to the system-on-chip at the core of your system. Since FPGAs are used in many small-volume and prototyping projects, we often use pre-made modules or even development boards for the FPGA portion of our design. That way, we don’t have the huge additional task of designing our own PCB.

In those types of projects, we’re often putting a big chunk of our functionality on a regular-old PC. It makes sense. There’s no point in designing custom hardware to do something that we can accomplish with a little bit of code on our laptop - and these days our laptop’s capabilities are impressive.


Analog-to-Digital-to-FPGA Gets a Boost

Analog Devices Supports JEDEC JESD204B

by Kevin Morris

We’ve yammered on a lot in these pages about how these newfangled FPGA whipper-snapper chips are neater’n dirt when it comes to crankin’ out a whole mess-o lickety-split figgerin’ fastern’ you can say “Bob’s yer Uncle.” Yep, if you got something like that whatcha call digital signal processin’, they got them some-o them there DSP blocks that can do yer times-es, your gozeintas, yer take-aways, and yer summin’. You just pile up the data and pump it in, and the FPGA will do the figgerin’ fastern’ cuzin Winki can go through a stack-o flapjacks.

The problem, of course, with “cuzin Winki” eating “flapjacks” is that somebody has to prepare and serve them - and they need to be going at least as fast as “cuzin WInki” can eat. Before an FPGA can really shine on applications like signal processing, you have to be able to gather data (which is probably analog), convert it accurately to the digital domain, and somehow get it into your FPGA at a speed worthy of the FPGA’s considerable computational abilities.


Scene Changers

Mergers, Patents, and a New Family of FPGAs

by Amelia Dalton

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.


To Microsemi and Actel – an SoC

by Dick Selwood

Why do companies buy other companies? In one case, I was told, it was because a very large multi-national organisation had an M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) group and the group needed to justify their existence by carrying out projects. But, more sensibly, the main motive in the headline events that make the financial pages of the newspapers, or even the heavier news programmes on television, is usually financial: the intention is that the combined company will be worth more than the two individual units through the magic benefits of synergy. Trimming overlapping administrative functions should save money (but it never seems to be as much as was first planned). In technology, the acquiring company will often buy another to improve the products they can offer – filling a gap, extending the range, replacing a weak product with something stronger, or having a new product that may help to increase sales of existing products. (In some cases they may buy a company to stop a rival getting their hands on the technology, or even to kill a rival technology.)



What If - There Were No Patents?

by Kevin Morris

John Lennon famously exhorted us to “imagine” a world with an alternative set of assumptions. It’s an exercise worth doing. We trudge along day-to-day with our preconceived postulates safe in their sanctuaries, seldom taking the trouble to ask ourselves what would happen if some of the underlying framework of our profession suddenly changed.

We have talked before on these pages - sometimes with a measure of controversy - about the possibility of abolishing patents. (See My IP - Brain for Rent, and Let’s Abolish All Patents.) Absolute heresy, right? The world of technology as we know it would implode upon itself, leaving a black hole of innovation that would not only prevent all future inventions from being born, but might even retroactively un-invent some of our most important technologies. Overnight we would probably revert to dial phones, mechanical relay computers, and vacuum tube audio amplifiers. (Wait, that last one might be kinda’ cool...)


Aldec Heads to Hardware

Fast Following to Fast Leading?

by Kevin Morris

There are certain companies that seem to make their living with what some marketers call a "fast follower" strategy. The principle is sound and simple. You watch the leading bleeding-edge companies in your market segment. You take note of which of their new products gain market traction, and you create a useful, usable substitute for those products for a significantly lower price.

Just about every industry has companies that could be characterized as "fast followers." In EDA, one might argue that Aldec is such a company. Aldec has long made their way by offering a solid, useful HDL simulation platform for significantly less money than most mainstream vendors. Aldec's simulators have gained a reputation for excellent reliability and usability, and they have particularly earned a strong following in the high-reliability and military/aerospace segments.


Daybreak at 20nm

Altera Previews 20nm Roadmap

by Kevin Morris

The crushing exponential onslaught of Moore’s Law is a harsh mistress. Each new process node demands a new round of superlatives and introduces a new way of thinking about the world of electronic design. The things we knew before are now quaint, dated, outmoded. The new things we are just learning (which will be all-to-soon relegated to the “norm”) stretch our collective imaginations as we interpret the implications of a whole new vocabulary on our day-to-day design lives.

When we first hear about what the next node will bring, we are often dumbstruck. No matter how many times we have experienced this topsy-turvy inversion of our expectations, we are surprised anew. The human psyche was just not designed to deal with long-term exponential change.


Biobots, Raspberry Pi, and Design Verification

by Amelia Dalton

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.

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