Friday, February 29, 2008

HD-DVD is Dead. How about Dueling EDA Standards?

As anyone following consumer electronics knows, the nascent high-definitition DVD market was held back by dueling standards: HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba/Microsoft, and BlueRay, backed by Sony and many movie studies. Microsoft XBox 360 had an HD-DVD option, and Sony PlayStation 3 had built-in BlueRay capability.

This unfortunate situation harkens back to the old "Beta vs. VHS" VCR format fiasco. Sony lost that battle, but in the case of BlueRay, they've come out on top. Nearly all studios and retailers have announced support for BlueRay instead of HD-DVD, and it looks like the industry will finally be able to focus on who can produce the best products at the best prices.

What does this have to do with EDA? Unfortunately, our industry is also plagued by dueling standards, and by companies jealously protecting de facto standards. In the beginning, there was Verilog, which Cadence refused to open up, spawning many man-years of duplicated work in VHDL. It happened again with Synopsys' .lib format. When Synopsys refused to open that up that standard, the industry spent a bunch of time on a competing OLA/ALF standard. Finally, Synopsys opened up "Liberty" and we can focus on who has the best tools, with library access for all.

In the present day, we still haven't learned! I hope for a quick and orderly consolidation of

  • Advanced timing modeling: CCS (Synopsys) vs. ECSM (Cadence)
  • Low Power Constraints: UPF (Synopsys) vs. CPF (Cadence)
  • Though I'm not a Verification guy, it sounds like the same thing is happening with VMM (Synopsys) vs. OVM (Cadence/Mentor)

Come on, big vendors! For the sake of the your customers and to have a dynamic, innovative industry, tear down those walls!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Synopsys Doesn't See a Slowdown, Either

Similar to Magma's earnings report for this quarter, Synopsys doesn't report seeing a slowdown in their business. This has been much on analysts' minds, and the subject of pointed questions in conference calls since Cadence's disappointing report. Aart de Geus, Synopsys CEO, said "we project that EDA will grow and we will gain market share in 2008, all under our very stable business model." For more, see the earnings announcement and conference call transcript below.

Friday, February 15, 2008

That's Innovation!

EDN's 18th Annual Innovation Awards Finalists - EDN lists the nominees for the 18th Annual EDN Innovation Awards. It's a quick way to see "what's hot" in a diverse number of fields, which happens to include EDA (in two categories).

What do you think about the finalists? Are the most innovative products that you would pick on the list?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What is PDF's Solution?

I don't want this blog to become "watching the EDA train wreck", but what is happening to the industry recently? Sramana Mitra's blog alerted me to PDF Solutions in her post PDF Offers Value, Finds Scaling Difficult - Sramana Mitra on Strategy.

The stock has dropped to an all-time low:

Sramana is suggesting that PDF has real value add and that the company should be an attractive acquisition candidate to a major EDA vendor. I do agree, DFY/DFM products that really work have a tangible benefit on chip companies' bottom lines. It's easier to appreciate and quantify DFM than that other great hope of EDA, "ESL".

One drawback is if the customer base is just foundries (like TSMC) and IP providers (like ARM Holdings), then the number of customers is not very large. Many fabless semiconductor companies won't need a big investement in DFM, at least not until such tools move up into the design implementation process.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Profile of ATopTech, P&R Upstart

ATopTech is an EDA startup with a goofy name but a hot P&R product, according to rumors on John Cooley's DeepChip site. Does the Industry Need Another P&R System? is an interview with Eric Thune, the VP of Sales & Marketing at ATopTech. He describes a lot of technical features of the tool, and makes specific claims of where they are better than the competition.

The technology just sounds mind-boggling. I'm sure there are other EDA systems with such impressive algorithms, but to see all the capabilities enumerated and to try to imagine how to do it all -- why it makes my head spin as "just another Perl hacker". A couple of quotes that impressed me: "If you look at many of the members of our team, you see that this is their third commercial place and route system that they have built. They know all about the challenges and the mistakes that have been made." and "The feedback from our customers is that our R&D has done a phenomenal job on customer request. They turn those around quickly. With some of the big guys, they do not see a release for six months. Our customers are asking for things and seeing them in days or weeks."

Normally I don't like the extra-long interviews posted on EDA Cafe, but this interview is worthwhile if you're interested in "what's hot" in IC implementation.

Sramana Crunches EDA

I blogged an alert about Cadence's troubled guidance in CDNS, Like a Rock, and now, respected business blogger and journalist Sramana Mitra has weighed in with an in-depth analysis at Cadence Crashes. Now What?.

As I've commented to her before, I like her "big picture" financial perspective on the EDA industry, but as an engineer, I feel she gives too little weight to the strength of each company's technology. She argues that the big guys will win in the long run because of their ability to deal.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

EDA Slowdown? What Slowdown?

Coming one week after Cadence announced a weak outlook and the stock cratered, we have Rajeev Madhavan, Magma founder and CEO, telling investors
[Regarding] the economy and its impact on our industry and our customers: We do not believe the economy is having a significant impact on our business. Our customers continue to invest in Magma tools because they provide the most productivity. Magma grows by taking market share and does not rely on overall EDA industry growth. We continue to provide new products that expand our total available market and as long as these products increase customer productivity, Magma will continue to take market share.

-- Magma F3Q08 (Qtr End 12/31/07) Earnings Call Transcript - Seeking Alpha

Ouch, talk about kicking your competitors when they're down! As you can see by this chart, LAVA has outperformed its major competitors and the general market over the last year, though in today's market, that means they've only produced a 3.6% gain.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Prestigious Turing Award presented for Model Checking

Dr. Dobb's Journal: 2007 Turing Award Winners Announced gives details on the recipient of the annual Turing Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Computer Science. It's nice to see an EDA field being so recognized-- I've always admired the complexity of EDA problems and the intellectual power harnessed to solve them.

My impression is that Model Checking is still a nascent field of EDA, yet these guys invented it way back in the early 1980s! Talk about a long gestation period.

Has their work directly gone into any current-day EDA tools? Is there a rightful heir to this seminal innovation?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

ULTRA Low-Voltage Design Reported

Energy-efficient Microchip Could Result In Cell Phones Staying Charged 10 Times As Long, Self-charging Electronics describes a design done by MIT and TI researchers showing operation at 0.3 volts. It includes several interesting features, such as
  • On-chip DC converter to reduce voltage
  • Designed to minimize manufacturing variation
  • 0.3 volt operation at Idle mode, which implies Dynamic Voltage Scaling (DVS).
  • Memory uses an eight-transistor bit cell, which improves retention at low voltage.
Lowering voltage is actually the standard for lowering system power," said Dean McCarron [President of Mercury Research]. "The challenge is that when voltage gets to a certain level, generally around 0.8 to 0.9 volts, making the chip work becomes more difficult. You know, 0.9 was thought to be the floor, and these guys have broken through the floor.

The researchers are describing their work in a paper presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. See also this Computerworld article.