Archive for July, 2009

Jul 28 2009

DAC 2009 – Ciranova, Physware, and Silicon Frontline

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Ciranova was showing thier Helix product for analog placement and routing.  The system uses a Phycell environment, optimally created with the non-design objects such as taps and dummies included as part of the Phycell, and a set of constraints to create custom analog (device level) layout options.  The new addition to this tool is the analog router to for connection of the placed blocks.  As the tool is built on OA, the full design structure is rule based and correct by construction.  The OA database can be verified by most of the commercial tools (Synopsys, Mentor, Cadence) for DRC/LVS/OPC/etc.   The tools continues to supports both flat and hierarchical modes of construction and is schematic/netlist driven.  With the release of the first major foundry independent Phycell library (TSMC), there are now actual rules and design constraints defined.  This removes the majority of the configuration bottlenecks.  They also were demonstrating the free PhyCell Studio which is editing, creation and viewing tool for their open source PhyCell reference library.

Physware and Silicon Frontline are both companies that are selling a 3d field solver product, and both have former Nassda founder Sang Wang involved.  Physware is focusing on the Chip-Board-System marketplace for EM and Noise analysis.  Silicon Frontline is focusing on the IC design marketplace for RC, R and electro-thermal extraction.

Physware has a new full 3D EM field solver that provided significant speed up over older solvers due to their design of the product to support SMP and multi-core/multi-threaded processors and a high speed linearly scaling linearized solution for the EM matrix.  Using these methods large data sets (GDSII, GERBER [Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor, Zuken]) can be analyzed for package-on-package, stacked die, TSV, and SIP designs.  The existing version of the product had a 3D Wave solver for noise and EMI, a 3D Quasi-static solver and now adds a new Static and Dynamic 3D solver that is called PhysVolt.  The roadmap for the product will include thermal noise analysis. In addition to the design solver and extractor, there is a near field and far field solver for EMI at the enclosure level incorporating the electronic designs.  The tools are in use at TI and Toshiba as reference accounts, and the product interfaces with most companies “golden simulation and verification” environments.

Silicon Frontline was demonstrating their product that was announced in late May.  Thier 3D solver technology, while having similar speed and performance aspects to that of Physware is completely different and is targeted towards a different set of data.  Their circuit flow is now approved and qualified by TSMC and UMC.  In addition to the GDSII design data, there is a process technology file that is used to help generate the 3D views of the design.  Their product includes a 3D topographical viewer of the design data for reference and ease interpretation of the design.  The RCX product (F3D) and the just R product (R3D),   The resulting netlists that are extracted are compatible with most simulators (circuit level and high capacity) that have been blessed as golden by customers.  The roadmap for their product included additional fab support and electro-thermal model extraction at the device and interconnect level.

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Jul 28 2009

DAC 2009 – Synopsys Galaxy and IC Validator

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Synopsys had one of the few busy booths on the show floor (the others being Mentor and TSMC).  In addition to the coffee, which was attracting most of the isle go-ers, they introduced a couple of new products.  On the physical verification side, they were focusing on IC Validator and of the flow side, it was Galaxy 2009.

IC Validator was being shown, and it is their long awaited new physical verification tool that is their “savior” over Hercules in the fight with market leader Calibre.  The product, which was introduced several months ago, was shown in typical IC Compiler applications and demonstrated, on live data, that it actually works inside the whole ICC flow.  The DAC demo did not really identify any new startling features of the product, it did however, solidify the claims and features of the product release.  As a result, it showed that it was significantly NOT vaporware, but real code.  The demo did not focus on the legacy compatibility aspects of the product with Hercules, and as the hierarchical processing is different, it most likely will require some client side rework in order to “re-bless” golden blocks from prior designs.  The use of a hierarchical verification flow, without data exports (i.e. no long I/O write times for GDSII from ICC) will provide the user with significant wall clock time improvements in the use of the tool.

The Galaxy 2009 was introduced with the tag line of 2X faster throughput.  The basis being several key components – a new constraint analyzer, supporting the use of multi-core hardware as a workstation platform, support for Multi-Corner Multi-Mode (MCMM) design analysis, and the In-design Rail and verification product (replacement for PrimeRail).  The constraint analyzer is a new tool that replaces scriptware that is in place by 95% of the user community.  It allows the engineer to view and review the PrimeTime constraints for a design and flag missing, incorrect, conflicting and Unnecessary constraints.  The integration into a supported tool that also loads the MCMM info, means that the user can actually make sure the typical cut & paste method of creating the constraint file is not messed up with the various corners.

Synopsys has been on a long (5+ year) effort to re-architect the tools to support modern x86 platforms with multi-core and a targeted SMP configuration.  This has come to completion with is release and the additional core scaling exists and is as expected.  One of the under-identified features of the new flow is the Merged Scenario Reports and ECO’s for the MCMM analysis.  From a user point of view, creating 5-8 additional corners of design data on a faster machine is not really as big a deal as the ability to interpret the results.  Their MCMM reporting engine allows just that ability to exist.

The In-Design Rail Analysis tool was also recently introduced and is part of this flow.  In the new MCMM environment, IR drop and Electromigration analysis can now be performed.  As a major improvement, the tool now fully handles multi-voltage, multi-power design and most of the low power strategies such as switched and gated power scenarios.

Overall the new flow is faster due to the multi-core support and is actually well integrated.  The current weak spot on the tool is the marketing collateral data that can relevantly and with a modern form (e.g. please stop using the 1980′s era design road block with a brick wall graphic – it has been in every pitch pack for the past 20+ years and is not fitting the code enhancements) show the actual improvements in the tool and how it will benefit the user.  Luckily, the emphasis has been on code development rather than marketing messaging, unlike some other EDA firms.

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Jul 27 2009

Comic-Con 2009 – The storyline beats out technology – by Joseph Chatterjee

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Special Topic Editor Joseph Chatterjee reports on Comic-Con 2009.  The theme at CES, NAB, and E3 this year were based on the new hardware technology being the driver for the new products and services for the next few years.  The Comic-Con popular culture (and graphic novel) conference reinforced the message that was presented at the Cisco Live 2009 event, which is the content and message is what is important, the technology will be providing the accessibility and delivery format.  At Comic-Con and its co-located event ICv2, the message that was presented for graphic novels, video games, movies and even the new digital format comics, is that the storyline is the main thing.

At the ICv2 conference, artist and author Jeff Smith (Bone and RASL) Jeff Smith @ ICv2 talked about licensing the content of a story to other mediums for distribution.  These topics include major market publishers, gaming, television and feature films.   Jeff, who has sold over 3 Million copies of Bone, made the point that when licensing  the characters and storylines, it is  about the creative control, direction of the material, and context that protects and enhances the value of the creative assets.  The value of extending the story beyond the book is NOT if it is in a game or a film, but how well the game (regardless of platform) or film (feature or tv) treats the material, has replay value, and captures the attention of the audience.

In the area of feature films, ScreenWriter David Leslie Johnson David Johnson ComicCon2009discussed his new project – the psychological horror film “ORPHAN”.  In creating the screenplay, the format was traditional – it was targeted for a being shot with film, and it did not focus on the special effects/cgi for the plot.  Whereas some of the new science fiction and horror films require complex environments which can only be created convincingly with a CGI on video format, the plot line for “ORPHAN” is based on a story with a strong character depth and a surprise twist at the end.   The ending was actually they key element of the screenplay, and the rest of the story developed as a “preface” to a endpoint in the story.  When asked about special effects and the use of CGI, he responded that it was not a consideration in the screenplay.  He focused on setting the mood, the feeling and tension in the scenes.  The director, in helping to bring visualization of these emotions to keep the themes in play, built both complex traditional sets (including an open 3 story house) and supplemented it with CGI as needed to keep the story in line.  This idea of the story being the driving feature over the effects is even true with highly anticipated features such as James Cameron’s Avatar – which while laden with new technology and effects in order to bring the film to life, the technology is the method of telling the story, not the story.

In the area of television, we had a chance to talk to the creator and cast of USA televisions’ “Psych”.  As the show is light action series, there are not a lot of special effects other than traditional stunt person and police drama effects.  (Note: in the episode with the roller derby thieves, Detective O’Hara – Maggie Lawson Maggie Lawson & Timothy Omundson – actually did some of her own skating which “was not as simple as getting back on a bike”).  Series creator and writer Steve Frank Steve Franktalked about the keys being the humor of the show and the interaction between the cast members on the show.  His focus in on the depth and speed of the storyline ad characters, rather than the locations and environments they are involved in. Cast member Corbin Bernsen Corbin Bernsen discussed how the character he is currently playing is a much stronger personality fit to him as compared to some of the other roles he has played.  He mentioned the fun of working on the show related to the interplay with the special guest starts who are now coming to the show for the storyline.  This was in comparison to some of the horror movies he writes, directs, and produces which have a lot of reliance on special effects on thinner storylines.

Dule Hill (“Gus”) and James Roday (“Shawn”)  also talked about the writing and fluidity of the story as compared to past projects (including “The West Wing”).  Dule Hill & James RodayJames also discussed his shifting role as not only a cast member, but also as a writer and director for some of the episodes.  He indicated that the premise and characters made it pretty straight forward to direct, although he was still getting the hang of directing himself in scenes.

On the video game front there was once again a focus on the story as the key.  There was a sneak peak at the alpha version of the Iron Man 2 game (multiplatform).  It uses a lot of physics based action and complex lighting that is being rendered for both interior and exterior scenes.  The big additions are the ability to do fine detail adjustments on the armor and new scenes, but the playability of the games is enhanced by the new storylines and situations that are unique to the game and NOT part of the movie.  Another game developer who is focusing on the storylines rather than just the technical effects of the games is Telltale Games in San Rafael, CA.  They produce Wallace and Gromit, Sam and Max, and Tales of Monkey Island.  In discussions with Design Director Dave Grossman, they use traditional single environment rendering solutions (Autodesk, Adobe, and custom tools) and then edit and downsample the high res graphics to the platform specific requirements.  Thier focus is increasing the performance of the software so the loading does not interfere with the game play or story and on the character development.  In Sam and Max Season 2, they have added new characters from the comic book (Flint Paper) and the expanded the size of the town so more buildings are accessible, and they expanded the personal relationship between Sybil and Abraham Lincon.  Unlike other games, the characters continue to interact even after they “get killed” in some of the episodes where they can return as zombies and try get back to life.

The overall theme including the new “motion graphic novel” technology developed by Disney and famed Comic book legend Stan Lee, is that the on-line and print formats do not hold up and will not retain an audience without a good story.  The technology is just relegated to being a key and necessary enabler of the experience not the focus of the experience.

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Jul 13 2009

Final Draft V8 – Advanced script writing software

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At first it may seem that reviewing the use of script writing software, targeted for the TV, Movie, novel and graphic novel industries, is out of place in an engineering technical publication.  In reality, the current mode of multi-person communication, multi-person presentation and the pervasive use of telepresence for both marketing and engineering functions, makes this software a new critical piece of the communication tool flow.  The program greatly simplifies the organization of the material and role of the participants in a presentation format that is vastly more usable, interpretable and easy to enter than trying to force something powerpoint with its outline tool.  The software is also very well suited to its intended function of creating novels, monographs, detailed outlines, and scripts for advertising/tradeshow/marketing/entertainment function.

The product is a single column format scripting progam with all of the features needed for proper use of text (spell check, thesaurus, etc).  The new version installs from a single disk (both mac and win).  Unlike most technical and CAD programs, this product installed quickly and easily, it recognized the licensing keycode the first time.  On a mult-core machine, the program works well occupying a single core of the CPU and behaves nicely with Powerpoint, a wordprocessor, a spreadsheet, a browser (happy with Firefox and Chrome for all tasks, good with IE8 considering IE8′s issues with secondary tasks and streaming video), and most media players on the other cores for reference material.  The program itself has a very small memory footprint compared to traditional wordprocessing applications such as Word 2003 and Word 2007.

The program has a number of stock templates that are organized by the categories of: graphic novels, scripts, text documents and TV templates.  The TV templates are preset with the characters of the show and the locations.  The text document formats include manuscript, novel, outline, query letter, standard text document and treatment.  The scripts section includes script formats for stage performance, TV, film screenplays.  For use of the software as multi-presonnel presentation and multi-location telepresence meetings, the BBC Three Camera show and the standard screenplay are both good starting places.

The progam allows for setup of multiple characters, or in the cse of a presentation, multi-presenters and maintains them in a character list box.  Similarly with themes, locations.  As scripts are organized bu scenes, the navigator toolbox is keyed off of the scene order.  This can be adjusted similarly to the slide sorter in Powerpoint if you want to adjust the order.  The advantage of this method over a typical word processor or Powerpoint, is the ability to keep the whole context together, as easily separate the individual contributions and partsfor each of the characters/presenters in your event.  The product is designed to create individual scripts per person, as well as tasks/cues for third parties (special effects, multi-media, etc) that need to be performed.

There is an additional product from Fianl Draft which is the AV version that is targeted at two column format scripting for those that are in more of the editing/production side of the video business.  Most people work well with the single column format.  The product is a good tool for new engineering meetings and product rollout videos, and having it available will allow most engineers to create their technical book manuscript, graphic novels, screenplay or mass market novel while waiting for the simulations and verification runs to finish.

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Jul 09 2009

DAC 2009 Preview

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At the end of July, in San Francisco, is the 46th Design Automation Conference (DAC).  For the past couple of decades, the show has been dominated by its exhibit floor and the display of new EDA tools and IP.  Concurrent with this large exhibit floor, has been the on-going technical conference composed of papers, panels, keynotes and workshops.  The harsh worldwide economy and the cost of chip development at leading edge process nodes, has impacted the viability for a single, once a year gathering of the industry as the primary method of introducing new and improved tools to the world wide audience.  This is now a continuing task, that is increasingly taking place on a direct channel.

The DAC show, however, was started as a technical program and still boasts a very strong conference in that regard.  The technical program is targeted at the user community of IP and custom chip development, which is not covered by other IEEE events.  This years program has a technology target keynote from TSMC.  The program will be providing 6 tutorials, 8 workshops, over 25 panels, and 10 special sessions including a Management track.

Some of the key technology areas that are being addressed in papers and panels are DFM, design verification and test, multi-core design, and bio-electronic design.  These papers and presentations were selected from a large set of submissions, and the quality of the papers is one of the highest in recent years.  The event has full conference, one and two day conference, management day, and exhibits only registration packages for the event.  They have recently added a “free Monday” exhibits only pass to assist those in the bay area at being able to attend the event.

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