New Dimension in Chips

What 3D ICs Mean for the FPGA Industry

by Kevin Morris

3D is one of the hottest buzzwords these days. Every marketeer worth his salt is trying to find a way for the next “new thing” to be plausibly labeled as “3D.” 3D is cool. We see it in movies. The bad guys jump right out from the screen. 3D is real, vibrant, and immersive. 2D is, well, flat and boring.

When Tabula introduced their time-multiplexed FPGA fabric a few years ago, they proudly raised the 3D flag. Ahem, OK, so their chips aren’t EXACTLY 3D. Not in the physical sense. But, if you imagine the routing resources in a 3D projection of the 2D surface where each time step of the multiplexer reaches a different plane in the Z axis, you can plausibly... Well, you can plausibly say that “3D” was a marketing spin. Tabula’s chips are cool and innovative, but not really 3D.

 

Envisioning the Future

Embedded Vision Lunges Forward

by Kevin Morris

Last summer, we published an article welcoming the Embedded Vision Alliance to the world. With the incredible processing power available today - particularly when you consider the massive acceleration possibilities with devices like FPGAs and GPUs - real embedded vision becomes a realistic possibility. Making that possibility into reality, however, is an enormous task, requiring collaboration from dozens of companies and academia.

When we talk about embedded vision, we're not talking about just bolting a camera onto your embedded system. Devices that simply capture, reformat, record, or transmit video don't count. In order to count for our purposes here, your system needs to actually understand what it's seeing and do something useful with that information. When it comes to problem complexity, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

 

Coming Back for Seconds

Design West 2012 Part Two

by Amelia Dalton

In this week's Fish Fry, I look into two ever-present themes at this year's Design West Expo: power and software. On the software side, I interview David Kleidermacher (Green Hills Software - CTO) about embedded security, virtualization, and even Green Hills's collaboration with Nintendo. On the power side, I chat with Infinite Power Solutions about energy harvesting and find out why they don't call themselves "Limited Power Solutions".

 

Solving the Big Secret

Synopsys Attacks SEUs in FPGAs

by Kevin Morris

A few years ago, one FPGA vendor, Actel, was quietly shouting in the corner. “Hey! Single event upsets (SEUs) are a big problem for FPGAs!”

The other FPGA companies replied with a thoughtful technical analysis of the situation: “Hey, Actel - SHUT UP!”

OK, maybe that’s not exactly the way it went down, but the idea is basically right. You see, Actel’s history is in super-high-reliability FPGAs for use in space. Up in space, there are lots of tiny particles flying around with a lot of energy. When one of those particles hits a vulnerable part of an IC (like a storage element of some kind), it can flip the bit from one to zero or zero to one. As your razor-sharp digital design mind might be telling you right now, this is really bad.

 

Design West 2012 Shakedown

by Amelia Dalton

This week’s Fish Fry is all about Design West 2012, and at the conference this year I check out each layer of the embedded systems ecosystem--from distributors to MEMS, from microcontrollers to operating systems. In the first part of my coverage, I interview Jeff Jussel of element14 about element14’s connection to the Raspberry Pi computer and how element14 is looking to foster collaboration on every level of electronic engineering. Next, I chat with Gordon Cooper, Tony Xia, and Amit Bhojraj from NXP about their new product availability strategy, the analog sub-system included in their new microcontroller, and how Angry Birds worked its way into their booth this year. I also give an update on the “Find Amelia at Design West” contest and interview the winner of last week’s MAX V CPLD Development Kit.

 

(Moore’s) Law of Diminishing Return

When Do We Have Enough?

by Kevin Morris

Following the semiconductor industry for the past few decades, we’ve seen something unprecedented in human history. There has been a sustained exponential growth that has survived for over four decades, with resulting numbers that are absolutely mind-boggling. Analysts and writers have struggled to find the appropriate metaphors: “If the auto industry had done this, all cars would now travel faster than the speed of light and get over a million miles per gallon.” The attempts all seem to fall short of giving the audience a grasp of the magnitude of this accomplishment.

 

Spring into Action

Calypto’s Power Optimization and the Find Amelia at Design West Contest

by Amelia Dalton

In this week’s Fish Fry, I dig into the multi-layered world of power optimization with Shawn McCloud (Vice President, Marketing - Calypto). Shawn and I discuss the problems surrounding power reduction in today’s smaller geometries, and why he thinks power optimization is ignored by many designers. I even grill Shawn about why he has a ban on high heels at his house. Also this week, I unveil the details of EE Journal’s first conference contest called “Find Amelia at Design West” and even throw out a couple super secret hints on how you can find me and win a MAX V CPLD Development Kit (courtesy of Altera) right there at the show.

 

The Return of Alchemy

XMOS Turns Software Into Hardware – Presto!

by Jim Turley

Subtle definitions can make a difference. The old song title, “What Is This Thing Called Love” is a lot different than asking your spouse, “what is this thing called, love?”

So it is with XMOS’s new chip, the XS1. Is it an FPGA or a microprocessor? Perhaps it’s the much-touted system-on-a-chip? Maybe an ASIC replacement? Or possibly something entirely different? By the time you’ve finished the 15-second elevator pitch, you’re already confused. What is this thing, how does it work, and how do I use it in my design?

 

Back Seat Driving Innovation

MOST, Nvidia, Spansion, and Other Stories

by Kevin Morris

Modern automobiles are miracles of engineering refinement. Probably no other technology-related product calls from as many disciplines, has endured the same level of long-term evolution, has been actively used by more people, and has seen such steady long-term progress in capability, safety, and efficiency as your average family car. Each year, car companies take mountains of data and user feedback and pipe it into their engineering process, which results in an evolved, improved, safer product - most of the time, anyway.

 

Getting Your Verification Ducks in a Row

by Amelia Dalton

Look out! A new way to verify is coming your way. In this week’s Fish Fry, I check out Synopsys’s new Verification IP announcement with a special in-depth interview with Neil Mullinger from Synopsys. Neil and I discuss the details of this new verification platform, what markets it's destined for, and why whipping up your own verification IP may be a thing of the past. Also this week, I look into a new development in transistor technology headed up by a team at the University of Tel Aviv and why it may or may not involve deli meat.

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