Friday, June 27, 2008

Shine On You Crazy Designers

Denali is famous for throwing the best parties at DAC. I wish I had been there to see these performances. See more at YouTube - DenaliDacParty's Channel.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Chip Carl Sagan Would Be Proud Of

Remember the great astronomer Carl Sagan? He had a famous catch phrase describing the enormity of the universe, talking about "billions and billions" of objects.

Well, the semiconductor world has our first giga-transitor chip as shown in AnandTech: NVIDIA's 1.4 Billion Transistor GPU: GT200 Arrives as the GeForce GTX 280 & 260. Check out the article's die shot, which compares the GT200 GPU next to an Intel Penryn CPU. What a tour de force! Imagine all the EDA tools that chip must have broken, leaving vendors quaking in their shoes. :-)

In reading up on Carl Sagan,

  • I was reminded of the petty and very amusing feud between Sagan and Apple Computer.
  • I learned that "the indefinite and fictitious number Sagan has arisen in popular culture to indicate a count greater than 4 billion." Thanks to Moore's Law, we'll see the first "Sagan-chip" before you know it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mendence, the Merger

We have to come up with a clever name for the combination of Cadence and Mentor. Chris Edwards coined* Cadentor, which is actually a pretty decent name. Going the other way, Mendence is too close to "menace" or "mendacity", so I suppose the PR types won't buy that. (When AMD bought ATI, the irreverent press dubbed it DAAMIT.)

Cadence's unfriendly bid to acquire Mentor Graphics is red meat for the EDA blogoshpere! (Be sure to click on that link. It's a fascinating one-page summary of dozens of EDA news & opinion sources.)

I've read many thoughtful commentaries on the possibility. Frankly, most of them are unfavorable on the deal. Some of the substantial analyses:

Two of the more curious quips I read:

  • Customers don't want the EDA vendor to provide a complete front to back flow. They want best of breed tools, and for third party companies to link them together. I agree that we need best of breed tools, but not that we need third party companies to hook them together. Are there examples of companies that make a good business of that? That sounds like an ASIC company, and they aren't exactly thriving. There also used to be a company called Reshape that had their own physical design flow on top of commercial tools. But they ended up going out of business.
  • Cadence acquiring Mentor could present a big challenge to Synopsys. Well, I don't know. When two established giants come together, what technological advance does that enable? Not much that I can see. A bigger challenge is when a giant acquires a startup with hot new technology: think Cadence with Get2Chip, or potentially Mentor with Sierra Design Automation. One successful big acquisition was Synopsys acquiring Avant! -- I don't know what went on under the covers, but the products were complementary and continued to be successful after the deal was done.

    Of course, there may be "business synergies" -- cutting common administrative and infrastructure costs, and having a bigger menu for "all you can eat" deals. But it's kind of sad if one of the biggest business events in EDA just comes down to that.

*Update: Gabe Moretti lays claim to coining "Cadentor". I'll let Chris and Gabe hash it out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

NEWS FLASH: Cadence Proposes to Acquire Mentor Graphics

And then there were three? This just in: Cadence Proposes to Acquire Mentor Graphics for $16.00 per Share in Cash.

What is Mentor good at? I haven't used their tools recently, but by reputation I think they're strong at

  • DFT (FastScan)
  • LVS/DRC (Calibre)
  • Simulation (former ModelSim)
  • Certain pieces of Place & Route (Sierra)

So, does Cadence need some or all of these pieces because they're not strong? That's certainly the case for DFT: Mentor is a leader and Cadence is an also-ran. Or are they just "buying" Mentor's customer base?

UPDATE: Other blog reactions:

  • Cool Verification. A verification tools perspective.
  • EDA Thoughts. No, honestly -- tell us what you really think of the merger!
  • EDA Cafe. Several news releases, including Cadence's own presentation on the deal.
  • Sramana Mitra on Strategy. She's been calling for a consolidation in EDA, or some kind of shakeup in the business model. Her post has a good selection of links to her previous writings on the EDA business. This post also has the best comments thread on the topic.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One More Thing: Apple to Tackle Parallel Computing

Image:Steve Jobs.jpg Apple in Parallel: Turning the PC World Upside Down? - Technology - New York Times Blog quotes Steve Jobs in a discussion of harnessing multi-core computing:
Apple, he asserted, has made a parallel-programming breakthrough.

It is all about the software, he said. Apple purchased a chip company, PA Semi, in April, but the heart of Snow Leopard will be about a parallel-programming technology that the company has code-named Grand Central.

“PA Semi is going to do system-on-chips for iPhones and iPods,” he said.

Grand Central will be at the heart of Snow Leopard, he said, and the shift in technology direction raises lots of fascinating questions, including what will happen to Apple’s partnership with Intel.

Snow Leopard will also tap the computing power inherent in the graphics processors that are now used in tandem with microprocessors in almost all personal and mobile computers. Mr. Jobs described a new processing standard that Apple is proposing called OpenCL (Open Compute LibraryComputing Language) which is intended to refocus graphics processors on standard computing functions.

“Basically it lets you use graphics processors to do computation,” he said. “It’s way beyond what Nvidia or anyone else has, and it’s really simple.”

Since Intel trails both Nvidia and A.M.D.’s ATI graphics processor division, it may mean that future Apple computers will look very different in terms of hardware.

Will OpenCL be an alternative to NVIDIA's Cuda software interface? Read the comments in the NY Times blog for some good technical analysis and the usual passion that surrounds any Apple pronouncement.

Update: see a thoughtful perspective in Chris Edward's blog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tantalizing But Flawed

I would love to know the real scoop on the semiconductor challenges and drama involved in developing a high-end gaming console like Microsoft's Xbox 360. A surprising story originating at DAC, - The truth about last year's Xbox 360 recall dangles some tantalizing clues.

I find the story frustrating and a bit flawed in helping to get to the truth of the matter. The article blames Microsoft's troubles on "bypassing an ASIC vendor to go directly to TSMC". But then it mentions ATI Technologies as a likely ASIC vendor. Huh? ATI, an ASIC vendor?

I would call ATI more of a "contract design house" in this deal. They have considerable graphics IP, and designed the GPU for the Xbox 360. (NVIDIA designed the GPU for the original Xbox.) Perhaps Microsoft decided to take only the design (netlist or GDS2) from ATI, and manage the silicon operations and production ramp themselves. That could be where they went astray. By not contracting with an experienced semiconductor company (like ATI or NVIDIA) to manage all the silicon issues, they exposed themselves to more risk. And maybe that came back to bite them in the form of the product defects exemplified by the "red ring of death" and led to product recalls.

Penny wise and pound foolish, Microsoft?

Monday, June 09, 2008

DAC 2008 Meta-Must-See List

That's right, readers. This is a list about lists!

I search the internet, so you don't have to.
-- From "your friend in the EDA Blogging business". (apologies to Tom Shane)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What "EDA Blogger Birds" Could Squawk About

Next week at the Design Automation Conference, a few leading EDA bloggers are arranging an impromptu "Birds of a Feather" session at DAC. There have been several posts discussing the event. Informal Blogging Event at DAC Gains Interest has a good summary.

Although I'm not sure I'll be going down to Anaheim, I'm very intrigued by the event and would like to attend. What topics would EDA bloggers talk about? Here are some that I would like to discuss with my brethren:

  • Online magazines, vendor communities, "DeepChip", and blogs: what each is good for.
  • What to write about. What not to write about. What I really want to write about, but am afraid to.
  • Frequency and regularity of posting.
  • How to build audience. How to track audience. Support each other through linking and commenting. Use pictures? Polls?
  • How to foster discussions. Pros and cons of comments. Need for an all-EDA bulletin board.
  • Team blogging. (multiple authors contributing to one blog)
  • Beyond blogging: social networks (LinkedIn, Plaxo). The Twitter phenomenon.
  • Can you make any money? Ads: google or sponsored.
  • For readers: how to find and follow blogs.
Incidentally, I've been blogging about EDA and Semiconductors for three years! My first post was about TSMC and low-power design; topics that are if anything, more relevant today.