Breaking the Balance

Achronix FPGAs Disrupt the Status Quo

by Kevin Morris

For two decades, the FPGA market has been a well-balanced duopoly - a yin and yang cocktail of equal but opposing forces arranged in perfect discordant harmony. Xilinx and Altera have acted as a matched pair of mutual predators in the evolution of a market that has played an important role in the electronics ecosystem. For every Xilinx action there was an equal and opposite Altera reaction. Each Altera thrust was met by a Xilinx parry followed by an Altera riposte.

The foils in this twenty-year fence-o-thon have clearly been semiconductor processes. There were huge rewards - in both cash and market share - to whichever company could successfully harness each new process node first (and we mean actually harness - defined as delivering working silicon in volume to their customers, rather than “marketing harness” - defined as being the first to issue a press release bragging about the new node.) The two titans have generally taken turns winning at each process generation, and the market share line has slowly swayed back and forth like a tide with a two-year time period.


The New Chip In Town

Achronix Shakes Up The FPGA Scene

by Amelia Dalton

As the ‘70s rock band the Eagles put it so appropriately, “They will never forget you until somebody new comes along.” Hey Xilinx and Altera, there’s a new kid in town...and he’s got a big brother will a lot of money, power, and a hot new process technology. This week's Fish Fry is all about the biggest EE news to hit the streets, Achronix (with Intel) is now shipping their Speedster22i FPGAs and the programmable marketplace may never look the same again. My guest is Robert Blake (CEO - Achronix) and we’re gonna get into the details of this announcement and check out where Achronix is headed.


Lessons From the Old Clock Tower

Cyclos Brings the Past Into the Future

by Kevin Morris

Back in the old days, they really knew how to make clocks. Their energy sources were less than ideal - usually a big tensioned spring or an elevated mass on a chain. They wanted whatever energy they stored there to last as long as possible, as it was usually recharged manually by humans. Their go-to solution was simple harmonic motion - usually in the form of a pendulum. As long as they tuned the resonant frequency of the pendulum to the frequency they needed for their clock, the system would tick and tock for days - at a steady pace - using very little of the precious stored energy.

It was all about resonance.


The Elephant in the Cloud

Plunify Sends FPGA Tools Aloft

by Bryon Moyer

The Cloud… Oh, the Cloud. Always right there, the answer to all our IT problems, and yet… and yet… for designers, the promise seems to remain just out of reach as deal-breakers remain to be solved.

We’ve looked at cloud computing before, and we’ve seen new companies enter and leave the cloud. And opinions are certainly not solidly aligned behind the concept. But the discussions have largely involved EDA companies or other tools. Completely missing from the conversation have been what are probably the most universally used tools of all: FPGA tools.


A Matter of Integrity

Cadence Rolls Sigrity and Allegro - Together

by Kevin Morris

Board design and layout used to be so simple. All you had to do was make sure that all the metal parts that were supposed to touch did, and all the metal parts that were not supposed to touch didn't. Handy software tools did all the heavy lifting, and there were about a zillion different possible layout solutions - all of which worked.

That was back in the day - before all this high-speed serial nonsense. Now, thanks to our multi-gigabit lifestyle, just making the metal touch doesn't cut it anymore. We have to worry about signal integrity (SI). All those zeroes and ones flying through PCB traces start to cut corners, and our eyes slowly begin to close…



The Real Rise of the Machines

by Kevin Morris

We knew this was coming all along.

From Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”, to James Cameron’s “The Terminator” - our science fiction writers have been warning us for two centuries that our engineering masterpieces would one day rise up to defeat us. With no emotional capacity for remorse or regret, no human souls to temper their relentless pursuit of their goals, and no fear to give them pause, these perfect villains would multi-mindedly put an end to our nice little party where humans were the top of Earth’s food chain.

The real revolution has already started, and the humans are losing. But the science fiction writers got it terribly wrong.


Occupy FPGA

EDA Tools for the 99%

by Kevin Morris

It’s freezing outside, but we are determined. We’ve got our sleeping bags, our unshaven faces, and our steely determination. We are occupying FPGA and demanding better tools. Is anyone listening? We represent the 99%!

Most people in the industry would tell you that there are three big electronic design automation (EDA) companies in the world. And there’s plenty of evidence to support them. Every industry analyst for the past 20 years has tracked the same old “big-3” EDA companies doing the same old “big 3” things. If you could look into the revenues and R&D expenses for those big 3 companies, however, I’m guessing that you’d find that the big 3 are spending most of their time and energy catering to about 1% of the world’s electronic engineers.


A Crossroads of Vision

Altium Alters Course

by Kevin Morris

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.


Best Little Podcast in Texas

DSP, CES, and The Hapifork

by Amelia Dalton

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.


Going Mobile with Solar

Alta Devices Changes the Rules

by Kevin Morris

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.

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