Part of the  

Chip Design Magazine


About  |  Contact

Archive for June, 2010

Scalable Architectures Expand into FPGAs

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Moore’s Law assures us that the transistor count of IC devices like FPGAs, ASICs and ASSPs will double every two years – with each successive process node. This means that chip density or capacity will increase and power consumption per transistor will go down.

Still, the numbers for Xilinx’s upcoming 28nm Virtex-7 family of FPGAs are impressive: 50 percent power reduction and more than doubling of the logic cell density (now at 2 million) over its 40 nm Virtex 6 devices.

Aside from improved power, performance and device capacity, the new 7 Series FPGAs offers scalability across the full family of devices. In previous generation of FPGAs, scalability was limited to within a family of devices, such as within the 40nm Spartan or 45nm Virtex-6 families.

This scalability is the result of the company’s unified FPGA architecture in which all of the 7 series devices use the same building blocks (logic fabric, Block RAM, clocking technology, DSP slices, and SelectIO™ technology). These blocks are combined in different proportions to create three new FPGA families at 28 nm:

> Artix-7: Low power, low cost, high volume Spartan replacement.

> Kintex-7: Mid-range for less cost and greater performance-power than the Virtex-6

> Virtex®-7: High-end performance that challenges ASIC and ASSP markets.

Scalability is essential in a world where design reuse is one of the best ways to manage chip costs and shrinking time-to-market windows.

“In an intellectual property (IP) centric world, most customer designs come from somewhere else – a previous design, the partners or us,” notes Patrick Dorsey, Sr. Director, Product Management for Xilinx. “The capability to scale and reuse IP across multiple devices and families is critical.” Such scalability and reuse minimizes the need to re-code, re-simulate, and fix bugs when retargeting an existing design or IP block to a smaller or larger device.

In addition to a scalable architecture, the 28nm FPGAs are implemented on high-k metal gate (HKMG) technology which is optimized for lower power. This results in a 50% decrease in static power and 30% lower total power compared to FPGAs built on the alternative 28nm high-performance process, explains Mustafa Veziroglu, Vice President – Product Solutions and Management for Xilinx.

“In terms of power, most applications consume one third static, one third dynamic and one third input-output power. As we move to 28nm, we’re reducing the total power by about one half,” notes Verziroglu. This means that customers can simply run the device at the lower power level or they can use the power reduction to increase the capacity or feature set of the end-product.

Another benefit of the ever decrease power envelope of next generation FPGAs – coupled with increasing cell capacity – is that these devices may now be capable of breaking into new applications and markets currently dominated by ASICs and ASSPs. The numbers support this assertion as Xilinx claims that – in addition to low power – the 28nm FPGA families provide “2.37TMACs in DSP performance, increase capacity up to 2 million logic cells that run at up to 600MHz, and 1.9Tbps high-speed connectivity.”
In addition to offering a significant challenge to the high performance, high volume ASIC and ASSP markets, this new family of FPGAs also offers improvements into the analog component market. Specifically, the Artix 7 (unlike the equivalent low-end Spartan) can be used to replace a large number of discrete devices with a single FPGA chip. This replacement not only saves on board space and reduces overall power, but can significantly reduce the Bill of Material (BoM) costs.

Although the first 28nm FPGA devices from Xilinx won’t be available until the first quarter of next year, designer can now start using the ISE Design suites that support the 7 series family.

What does Carl Icahn really want from Mentor?

Friday, June 18th, 2010
Whether it is short term gain or long term growth, Mentor’s latest suitor will need a deep understanding of the EDA market and its players to be successful.

Have you seen the increasing coverage about investor Carl Icahn’s growing interest in Mentor Graphics? Erik Siemers just wrote a story for the Portland Business Journal: “Mentor Graphics Waits to hear from Carl Icahn.” Even the Oregonian has recently noticed the issue, thanks to Mike Rogoway’s piece from several weeks ago: “Icahn takes a stake in Mentor Graphics

It should be no surprise that one of my first questions for Mentor’s CEO Wally Rhines earlier this week at the Design Automation Conference (DAC) was about Icahn’s intentions. Since the setting for this conversation was an informal dinner with press and – believe it or not – a couple of new EDA analysts, I won’t quote Wally directly but will instead paraphrase his response.

Mentor has seen many suitors come and go, although their numbers have increased over the last 5 years or so. For example, the Cidadel financial group sought to control Mentor back in 2006. From most accounts, their interest was purely for a short term gain. However, after discussions with Wally and the board, they found that the company strategy and structure favored long term growth. Further, there seemed to be little to gain from cutting cost or improving operations, since both were already at levels similar to the other big EDA companies. Indeed, those of us who follow Mentor know about the constant cost cutting that occurs, e.g., layoffs, even in good years.

This long-term strategy is also evident from a technology standpoint. Mentor’s recent acquisitions – 8 during the downturn and 12 over the last 2 years – have been in the areas of embedded software, open source Linux, board level manufacturing, packaging, and – of course – chip design. In other words, Mentor has continued to invest, even in the downturn. This strategy suggests a more mature and perhaps even boarder approach than Cadence’s recent EDA 360 pronouncements. Time will tell.

Will Icahn gain controlling interest in Mentor Graphics? Will he want to, once he gains a better understanding of the EDA business in general and Mentor’s company structure in specific?

In the past, many of us have seen suitors for both Mentor Graphics and Cadence Design Systems come and go. Those interested parties varied from financial/investment firms (such as the Cadence – Blackstone-KKR buyout), supply chain/ERP manufacturing companies, PLM design vendors (see my comments about Dassault Systems) and even EDA-to-EDA (Cadence’s attempted acquisition of Mentor in the summer of 2008).

Icahn may be the latest in a long series of suitors or he may be the final game changer. Regardless, it will make for an interesting summer of coverage.







Weatherford – Test blog with Flickr in Preparation for DAC’10

Friday, June 11th, 2010


Originally uploaded by cl3665

This is Weatherford Hall at Oregon State University. I spent 3 years here during my undergraduate years. It was – on paper – an all male dorm.

Why Gamers Matter to DAC

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

If you ask the organizers of the Design Automation Conference (DAC) about the future of the show, they’ll point to a strong number of attendees. If you ask the same question of DAC exhibitors, without exception they will all point to the already high and steadily rising costs of show floor space – not to mention union labor and booth support costs.


These two inter-related trends beg certain questions. For example, how will the continued shrinking of the show floor at DAC affect the conference as a whole, in terms of attractiveness to the attendees as well as the their registration costs? The continuing consolidation of the EDA market doesn’t help as the number of potential exhibitors thinning out.


What about start-up companies? First, there is evidence to suggest that the number of EDA start-ups is shrinking due in part to a decrease in venture capital investments. Second, most start-ups simply can not afford to exhibit at DAC.


What about the technical papers and presentations at DAC? More and more companies are spending their show dollars to generate and support these valuable technical sessions. That’s great, but it suggests that DAC may change back into a much smaller IEEE conference. The affect of such a change on exhibitors is obvious – they will be greatly reduced. How such changes would affect the number of attendees is unclear?


How about virtualizing the DAC, i.e., migrating the show into a virtual conference? While this is hardly a new idea, its time may have finally arrived. The benefits are too compelling to ignore – reduced costs for both exhibitors and attendees, while possibly leading to an increase in registration numbers.


Granted, these efforts are already underway, but with mixed results. I have yet to find a conference attendee in any space who prefers virtual conferences to the real thing. This may be a generational issue, but that has yet to be proven. Simply put, most folks find virtual conferences dull and poorly supported by the presenters and exhibitors. This leads to poor attendance. Part of that problem is one of technology, namely, you need a fast machine and specialized equipment to make the virtual attendee experience closer to the real thing.


But the lack of “sensory” experience – called augmented reality in the mainstream – is one of the topics of another show taking place near DAC in LA. The show is called the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3. Yes – it’s a gamer’s show. But it is also the place where Microsoft will be highlighting the new Xbox man-machine interface, available in time for Christmas’10. Dubbed Project Natal, it’s nothing short of an affordable full-body recognition platform. Not surprisingly, hardware heavy-weights Intel and nVidia will be making strategic announcements at the show as well.


This technology will affect the way we experience virtual conferences in the near future. As always, consumer game technologies will open doors that quickly expand into other markets. In this case, gamer technology may breathe new life into highly technical, niche “virtual” conferences like DAC of the future.


Look for my coverage next week from both DAC and E3.

DAC Bloggers Reflect on Two Years of Change

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

It was a hot Wednesday in mid-June 2008.  The Great Recession was well underway. Oil prices were climbing to record highs. An underdog named Barack Obama was campaigning for the upcoming presidential election. A niche conference in the IC design and manufacturing sector was winding down with only a few general topic gatherings – known loosely as “Birds-of-a –Feather (BoF) sessions – taking place in meeting rooms far removed from the main show floor.


One of these BoF events focused on the topic of blogging. The gathering was organized only a couple of weeks before the actual event by industry professional’s JL Gray, Sean Murphy, Harry Gries, David Lin and John Ford. Speakers were to include Steve Leibson, Grant Martin, and George Harper. Over 45 people attended, including long-time industry editors and pundits such as Richard Goering, Grant Martin, Brian Bailey, Peggy Aycinena and myself.


Heralded as a success by the BoF organizers, this surprisingly well attended event included both bloggers and traditional /journalist in the EDA/semiconductor industries. Though each group knew of the other’s existence, neither had paid much attention to the other – until this event. The resulting “discussions” led to significant changes in the way that the DAC organizers and the industry in general treated these two groups of content providers.


The worldwide media landscape has changed dramatically during the ensuring two years after the first BoF blogging event at DAC. In an attempt to be responsive to the changing dynamics of media coverage, this year’s DAC organizers have decided to separate bloggers from what remains of the traditional journalists. (see “Bloggers and Journalists at DAC – Two Years Later“)


What do the organizers and attendees of the first BoF bloggers session at DAC’08 think of these changes? I decided to find out. Their comments – unedited and listed below in alphabetic order – reflect both insights and some bias, the later a result of how each one defines “blogging.” Perhaps more enlightening is the responses of those who have been directly affected by the changes in the media industry, namely, several have changed from working as traditional journalist with major publishers to working as independent or corporate bloggers. Many have become consultants. Some have even stopped blogging on a regular basis. But these changes are instructive and should serve as a guide to the future of technology, news and product coverage in our market.



Has your perception of the differences between bloggers and press (traditional journalists) changed since the first Birds-of-a-Feather event at DAC in 2008?

[Note: Harry Gries decided to post his responses directly to his website.]


[Peggy Aycinena] Yes — the perception has changed, not from the POV of the Bloggers, but from the POV of the “Press” — I think the Press no longer see themselves as somehow special, in a loftier and/or different realm than Bloggers. It’s not Press v. Bloggers anymore — now it’s a giant PressBlurBlogger Continuum.


[Brian Bailey] Yes – I think each has a very different role and it is not fair to lump all bloggers together. There are bloggers who talk about techniques and methods that they have used or devised to solve problems. Many of them are consultants and this is exactly the type of content that would have go into prepared papers, only it is more ad-hoc and often does not go into the same depth. However, since the “cost” of putting it together is so much lower, there is a lot more of it today than there ever was in traditional print.


The downside is that there is a lot of rubbish as well. The problem is that without aggregation it is difficult for people to learn ahead of time which they can trust. Then there are bloggers – such as myself – that are traditional press only in a different form. I do very much the same as the traditional press, but have different motivations for doing it. I want to increase my knowledge so that I can use that information in books and other educational things that I put together. That provides the “payment” for me and I am not beholden to page views, ad revenues etc. I can actually be a lot more objective and have no limits on the things I can cover or what I say about them. I don’t care if I scare off advertisers (well, I don’t try and do this, but neither am I a part of their propaganda machine.)


[John Ford] I’m ever the optimist, but I feel like the tension has eased somewhat.  Two years ago there seemed to be *many* articles and blog posts dedicated to what a blog was and wasn’t and whether or not is was ‘journalism’.  You don’t see it so much now.  Bloggers keep on blogging, and so does the press.  I think the press has found blogging to be a useful tool.


[Richard Goering] There is still a difference between bloggers and independent reporters, but I think the lines are blurring in some ways. Typically, I think of blogs as first-person, informally written postings with a point of view and a comment capability. Traditional news articles are written in a more formal style and are objective and detached from the writer. However, I see more “blog like” articles appearing in traditional media, and most on-line high-tech media outlets now have a comment capability. It is often hard to tell the difference between a “column” and a “blog.”


[JL Gray] As was mentioned by others in the thread, there are really few, if any, journalists left in EDA, and all those who are left have blogs. And unfortunately, with all due respect and apologies in advance, I’m not really sure there are any journalists left who are able to do any really independent, investigative journalism of the EDA industry.


[Grant Martin] Yes, there are fewer traditional journalists, but also relatively few active bloggers too. There are many more hybrid “corporate blogggers or writers” whether journalists like Richard Goering or Mike Santariini hired by companies to blog, write, edit etc., or ex-journalists for publications with web sites that may be a combination of press releases, some opinion, and the occasional article.


The traditional electronics press continues to dwindle and I am not certain whether anything will be printed in this area in a few years as the magazines get thinner and less frequent.  Harder and harder to find much analysis (I of course except you and your magazine) of what is happening in electronics design.  And coverage of design in countries like China is patchy at best despite the high activity there.


Many people have tried blogging but their frequency diminishes after the first 6 months to a year, often due to pressure of work (a good thing to see, actually)


[Sean Murphy] The emergence of blogging and other social media mirrors it’s rise in
other technology ecosystems.


There was not a blogger BoF at DAC in 2009, but many of us took part in the Conversation Central initiative that Synopsys sponsored.



What do you think of DAC’s latest attempt to address these differences, e.g. Blog-sphere on the show floor, press room for traditional journalists?


[Peggy Aycinena] I have a very distinct response to the Blog-sphere v. Traditional Press Room, particularly since I was vetted and approved for the latter, but specifically told I was not attempt to enter the former. I’m bringing a small wheely cart, a TV tray, and a collapsible stool. Then, wherever I am in the Convention Center — on the Exhibit Hall Floor or anywhere else, I can just whip out my TV tray and my stool, set up my laptop (which has 6 hours of battery life these days), and create my own Traveling Blog-a-Press-a-Room-Sphere-Geodesic Dome. Have Ambiance Will Travel :)


[Brian Bailey] The irony is that they probably have it the wrong way around. Bloggers are likely to talk about papers, special sessions and less likely to talk about what is on the floor, or the companies that exhibit there. Traditional journalists are more likely to cover the show floor. Go figure!


[John Ford]  Interesting setup.  If I understand the setup as you described, the only difference between the press room is the location, which I guess, might make it easier for bloggers to spit out whatever thoughts they have on a particular exhibit they just saw, but myself, I’d prefer the removed, quiet place – I don’t write well with distraction.


[Richard Goering] I don’t know how the DAC “Blogsphere” will work so I can’t really comment. It is unclear to me how DAC will decide who has access to it.


[JL Gray] Interestingly, I personally cared a great deal about press room access back in 2007 when I first tried (unsuccessfully) to register as press at DAC. I met Nanette Collins that year for the first time and told her what would have been useful to assist me as a blogger. Now that some sort of credentials are available to me, I, bizarrely, find less use for them. That being said, having a place to congregate on the show floor should be useful. I wonder if the “real” journalists will congregate there as well. The most fun part about having access to the press room is getting to interact with the journalists!


 [Grant Martin] Personally, I don’t think this is  a distinction worth making, and seems to have been motivated more by resentment from some of the dwindling press  (and note, only some) or resentment from people who used to be part of the trade press and are now bloggers/web site creators – but still think of themselves as part of the press.  The change seems to have been harder for some to take than others.  But good information is good information no matter who writes it, and whether it is written in some site on the exhibit floor or in some cloistered

enclave for “the dwindling few”.   Maybe the class of drinks and snacks

in one location will be higher than in another, and that is one of the real motivations!


It’s not really relevant for me as this year I am a technical programme session chair and am co-giving a tutorial and will be in neither of these 2 locations.  But I will still try to write up what I see, hear and learn.


[Sean Murphy] I have no opinion on this. I have not applied for press or blogger
credentials in the past and will not do so this year.




What does the future hold for blogging at DAC?


[Peggy Aycinena] Blogging is the future of DAC — As DAC goes, so goes the Blogger Nation — What’s good for DAC, is good for the Blog-0-Ether and vice versa.


[Brian Bailey] I think the question is pointless. People will find ways to say what they want, be it via blogs, twitter or whatever technology is available. Technology provides a conduit that people will exploit. Of course if they get to good at it, then the only people who will bother being at DAC are the bloggers especially if interactive feedback becomes the norm. Why go yourself and spend all that money when you can ask a blogger to find out for you.


[John Ford]  I see it expanding, especially if it’s welcomed.  I hope more people get into it – especially those with industry experience that they can use to interpret unfolding events.


[Richard Goering] There will be more blogging from DAC and other industry events as time goes on. Blogs will probably become the primary way that people get news about what’s happening at DAC, if that isn’t the case already.


[JL Gray]  Notice I didn’t address the topic of the future of blogging at DAC. At this point, that seems sort of like asking about the future of elevators in tall buildings. After awhile, they stop being novel and are just expected features of a building.


[Grant Martin] I think in the future there is likely just to be a pool of information and analysis created by people who will not be able to distinguish whether they are a “blogger” or a journalist.   Just informed writers no matter what they call themselves.  The main difference may be whether something written is sponsored directly (by an employer or funder and thus written for hire) vs. funded through aggregation (eg advertising) or just written out of sheer interest (anything I write is in that category).   The key will be the quality of the information and analysis provided.  I still don’t see print journalism in electronics surviving more than another couple of years in North America – but hey, I could be wrong!


[Sean Murphy]  I still see 500+ feeds for EDA related content by 2011.