Friday, December 02, 2011

Unix's Long Strange Trip

h6180-doors-open-big If you love computers and history as much as I do, you'll enjoy The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix - IEEE Spectrum.

Such a wisely designed system to be pervasive after 40 years!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

3D ICs Have a History

Steve’s Improbable History of 3D ICs? Six decades of 3D electronic packaging | EDA360 Insider is a great quick history (with pictures!) of 3-dimensional chips (actually, going back to the vacuum tube days).

Practical takeaway: stacked memory is clearly one of the killer apps for 21st-century 3D IC assembly.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

SNUG Silicon Valley 2012 CFP

The Call for Papers is OPEN for SNUG Silicon Valley!

If you're a Synopsys tool user, please consider submitting a paper today for presentation at SNUG Silicon Valley. You can propose a paper by filling out a form and writing an abstract. Besides benefiting the engineering community at large, you'll develop your professional skills and raise your profile. We on the Tech Committee will help you!

Please visit the Call for Papers Web Page to check it out and submit your idea.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Career Fodder

I'm thinking to write a post on immigration and careers, but for now let me point you to two provocative articles I recently read:

  • Steve Jobs's Advice for Obama. While I love the acronym: the Staple Act (Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s from Leaving the Economy), the article also claims that Steve Jobs told Mr. Obama that Apple employs 700,000 factory workers in China because it can't find the 30,000 engineers in the U.S. that it needs on site at its plants. "If you could educate these engineers," he said at the dinner, "we could move more manufacturing jobs here." Quite a claim!
  • Non-engineer-staffed IEEE-USA sells out US electrical engineering jobs, a forum post on, sparks an excellent debate about US engineering grad schools, H1B and "green cards", and career prospects for American engineers (and their children).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dilbert Channels Apple

Dilbert is poking fun at Apple Store training! Will this be the start of a series?

How does it apply to our world? "As it turns out, you can't get your data out of our EDA tool ..."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Twitter Primer

For several years, Synopsys has a group of folks participating in social media (blogging, tweeting, etc.). Why, they've even written a book about it!

If you've heard about Twitter but don't know what it's all about, here's their article to succinctly show you the answers: The Listening Post » Twitter Helps Engineers.

What tweets might you find related to EDA on Twitter? Here's a real-time display:

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Architecting for Asynchronous Designs

I've long been fascinated by asynchronous logic design (filed under "magic they don't teach you in school"). And a startup called Fulcrum was one of the more successful at commercializing designs based on these tecniques. Recently, Intel acquired Fulcrum. Here, Ron Wilson shares some insights into what applications the asynchronous style excels at, and how to compose the solution play into its strengths: What is Fulcrum's real leverage?.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Steve Jobs' Partner in Design

Ive Lasseter cropped Tech news has had a plethora of stories about Steve Jobs and Apple since Dear Leader announced he was stepping down as CEO.

The SF Chronicle has a nice profile of one of the less publicized but vitally important talents at Apple, the head of product design: Apple's product vision falls to Jonathan Ive.

Update: Perhaps the San Jose Mercury News follows my blog, because shortly after this post, the newspaper of Silicon Valley came out with their own profile of Mr. Ive, Apple's design wizard has not left the building - San Jose Mercury News.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes

In honor of Steve Jobs on the day of his resignation as Apple CEO: Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes - Digits - WSJ. I'm most inspired by the things he has to say about design, and life. And most amused by what he says about Microsoft.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

CAD Engineers' Bookshelf Updated

Four years ago, I presented my original CAD Engineers' Bookshelf. I've put together an updated list here of the subset of books that I refer to most often. Since some titles have been updated, latest editions are listed here.

Another update since 2007 is that alternative formats are widely available for these books. You can go directly to the source at O'Reilly Media and purchase Ebooks formatted for all the popular e-readers. It's very convenient to be able to download formats that look great on your Computer, Kindle, or iPad.

Without further ado, here's the 2011 version of the bookshelf. It's all Perl, which is testimony to both Perl's power and it's inscrutability!

Monday, July 25, 2011

When Trolls Attack

Ever listen to This American Life? Ira Glass is a great story teller. This week's episode is very relevant to our industry.

It's on the long side. You can listen to it here, or do as I do and load it as a podcast onto your personal media player of choice. Then you can listen while washing the dishes, walking the dog, etc. Multi-tasking!

Who's your (least) favorite EDA/IP patent troll?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Art of Failure 2011

Enjoy the hauntingly beautiful chip photographs in Art of Failure 2011 - IEEE Spectrum.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saluting the Father of our Foundry

Tsmc factory hsinchu A well-deserved congratulations to Dr. Morris Chang, recipient of the 2011 IEEE Medal of Honor. IEEE Spectrum magazine has published a fascinating profile of his professional life in Morris Chang: Foundry Father - IEEE Spectrum.

The article quotes numerous industry luminaries to frame his impact. It's hard to overstate what Dr. Chang's accomplishments have done for so many of the industries that we work in: fabless semiconductor, EDA, ASIC, ... I found the article to be full of fascinating tidbits, such as

  • His first job paid $480 per month.
  • At the beginning, he was a self-taught semiconductor engineer. He spent countless hours after work to learn about new fields.
  • He was a highly successful TI executive before "starting over" to create a new industry from scratch in Taiwan.
  • On several occasions, he left good companies when things weren't working out, with no immediate job prospects. He had the confidence that he'd find a good opportunity.
  • Dr. Chang didn't become fabulously wealthy from founding TSMC! He's well-off, for sure, but a US executive would have made sure to ensure his success first.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Insanely Great or Just Insane?

A fascinating inside look at Apple and Steve Jobs' management style, excerpted on The full article is available for purchase and download at Amazon.

I'm happy to be an Apple customer instead of reporting to Steve!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Intel to Sprout Fins

Shark Wow, is "FinFET" happening already? It will soon, according to Intel putting fins on at 22-nm.

Intel will ramp manufacturing of these devices next year for their 22nm process shrink of Sandy Bridge CPUs. That appears to be a full process generation ahead of leading foundries such as TSMC, and the low-power advantage would help Intel become more competitive in the elusive mobile market.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Apple Tea Leaves, Viscera or Dark Matter

I'm not sure which is the right analogy, but in reading A5: All Apple, part mystery, I find this article to (1) be an interesting survey of the state of Apple silicon, and (2) an article that goes on and on but doesn't contain any factual information.

Apple's wall of silence is unprecedented in the industry. While much has been said about Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, equally impressive is the control that Apple exhibits over employees and suppliers to suppress all leaks. Have you seen many Apple presentations at industry conferences?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Jean Jennings Bartik, a Computer Pioneer

Two women operating ENIAC

Some pretty cool very early computer history from this obituary: Jean Jennings Bartik, a Computer Pioneer, Dies at 86 - Also, Jean Bartik on Wikipedia. Greatest Generation Pioneers, thank you for your contribution to the United States and the Computing profession.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Innovation In EDA

Each year, EDN magazine has a contest to select the most innovative electronic design products: EDN 2010 Innovation Award finalists:Are you inspired?

The nominees in EDA Tools and ASIC Technologies are

  • Calibre InRoute, Mentor Graphics. (is this Mentor's answer to Synopsys IC Validator, a winner from last year?)
  • DRC+, GlobalFoundries
  • PathFinder, Apache Design Solutions
  • SoftPatch for RocketVision, GateRocket Inc

Looking back at 2010 EDN Innovation Award winners, there were multiple categories of EDA-related awards, and thus many more EDA nominees. From each category, the winners were

  • Quartus II Version 9.1 FPGA-design tool, Altera
  • IC Validator in-design physical-verification solution, Synopsys
  • Virtuoso Accelerated Parallel Simulator, Cadence Design Systems

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cooley's Take on IPO Candidate Apache Design

Props to John Cooley for his article looking at Apache Design's history and products. It's been 10 years since the last EDA IPO? Surprising and troubling. Let's hope it's less than a decade for the next one.

Email from John:


     INDUSTRY GADFLY: "A brief history of Apache and its IPO"

                         by John Cooley

  On Monday, Apache Design Solutions, Inc. (APAD) filed to IPO for
  $75 million as a publically traded stock on the NASDAQ.

  The last company to successfully IPO in EDA was 10 years ago.  It
  was Magma, which raised $63 million back in 2001....


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

RISC versus CISC, Who is #Winning?

As you may know, I have a soft spot for technology history. I loved going to HotChips and hearing all the old bearded geeks debate CPU architectures, and why x86 often wins despite its warts.

I was delighted to find this couple of blog posts by UC Berkeley Computer Science professor David Patterson, one of the giants of computer architecture (and founding member of the RISC Fan Club):

  1. RISC versus CISC Wars in the PrePC and PC Eras - Part 1
  2. RISC versus CISC Wars in the PostPC Eras - Part 2 - ARM Community

If RISC and CISC start to look more like one another as they steal good ideas from each other, the architecture won't determine the "winner". Rather, it will hinge on other vital issues such as process technology (Intel wins) and openness (ARM, MIPS lead here).

Finally, if I may add a sophomoric comment, doesn't Prof. Patterson's mug shot remind you of Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard)?


Books About EDA

I'm intrigued by EDAgraffiti, a new book on our industry and plan to buy a copy. See this good review by Clive Maxfield.

Before that, the only other book I had seen on EDA was about the start of the ASIC industry, Silicon Destiny: The Story of Application Specific Integrated Circuits and Lsi Logic Corporation, which is pretty hard to find.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Hi, I'm a RealTime Designer. And I'm a DC."

Look what one can miss by not attending DAC! I didn't realize that Oasys put together a bunch of videos poking fun at Synopsys (and ripping off Apple's commercials). See Oasys' DAC videos. I would have liked some more inside jokes about the competition's shortcomings, but we get the general idea.

As a bonus, the well-produced DAC 2009 video features company executives in a music video with cheesy parodies of some classic rock songs. I'm amused, but Al Yankovic need not worry.

Props to for leading to my discovery of these gems.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What's inside Verizon’s Apple iPhone?

Verizon's version of the iPhone is just out and a couple of "teardown" companies have already sacrificed samples to see what's inside. Steve Leibson has their parts lists at Teardown of Verizon’s Apple iPhone reveals chips used. Want to know how many and which ones? Want to see the video teardown? | EDA360 Insider.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Most Dominant Franchise in EDA

I got to wondering -- which tool has the biggest lock on a major piece of the EDA tool constellation? (I originally wrote "monopoly" instead of "franchise", but don't want to connote market manipulation.) From my perspective, three come quickly to mind

  • Cadence Virtuoso
  • Synopsys Design Compiler
  • Synopsys PrimeTime

You may have other ideas, and I'd love to hear other nominations. Of these three, I think a good case can be made for Design Compiler having the strongest position. The other tools have large market shares, but also competition determined to make inroads.

Who might chip away at the synthesis gorilla? The old and new rivals are Cadence RTL Compiler and Oasys Real Time Designer. Just published on ESNUG is this "marketmonial" (I need a word for a marketing-inspired testimonial): "An Oasys RealTime Designer vs. SNPS DC-Topo/DC-Graphical benchmark . A couple of things that I especially like about Oasys' approach:

  • If Oasys truly optimizes at a higher level of abstraction (physical feedback can change the way RTL structure is synthesized), then substantial performance advantage claims become believable
  • It freely exports DEF and integrates with the physical design world. By contrast, DC Topographical/Graphical can't decide whether it wants to be complete physical synthesis or "PD-lite", not fully supporting or integrating with detailed physical design data. (RTL Compiler is open like the Oasys tool in this regard -- it interfaces with Encounter P&R tools using standard data exchange formats.)

Time will render the verdict, and the EDA battlefield is littered with past attacks on DC's franchise, but we need competition in all tool areas to continue advancing the state of the art.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Oops!... Intel Did It Again

Intel, if you need reliable designs to support your latest CPUs, there used to be a variety of companies in the chipset business. Britney-Spears Boys

January 2011 had more than its fair share of bad news for Intel, culminating in a very expensive recall of their newest chipsets because of a design defect. Most of the press coverage focused on the financial hit, but us design engineers are dying to know "what happened?". What's most interesting is that the problem isn't a defect that manifests itself right away, but one the causes the component to deteriorate over time. At first, I thought "electromigration". But the best speculation/analysis I've seen this early has been from Mike Demler, who shares his theories in Price for a new SATA I/O $700M. A complete AMS verification? Priceless! and If ever EDA needed a ($700M) proof point on their value....

If that's the root cause of this problem, it's another data point showing fraying at the edges of our tried and true EDA suites: tools are not available or mature to help with analyzing reliability, materials, packaging, etc.

Update: Thanks to a link from Steve Leibson, I came across this very specific description and analysis of the problem.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Birth of a World Beater

Nvidia-Tegra-T2-embedded-Colibri-computer-module-by-Toradex If you followed the Consumer Electronics Show news at all last week, you heard a lot about ARM, ARM, ARM. Mindshare-wise, it would appear to have Intel on the defensive. (I wonder how Intel feels about selling off their StrongARM now?)

I plan to learn more about ARM's architecture and products. For today's history lesson, Birth of a world beater features one of the original ARM designers.

I'm curious to learn the technical merits of the ARM architecture. Is it inherently superior? Or is the main advantage the scads of software eco-system available, with low-power coming from standard implementation and process tricks?

Technical superiority and business success don't always go hand-in-hand, anyway. I've attend HOTChips before, and I was amused how all the microprocessor experts there bemoaned x86's incredible success, even though they knew it was inferior to [insert your favorite CPU here];. x86 was just good enough to survive, and had been in the right place at the right time. Is now the time for ARM?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fancy Video of a Modern Fab

Here's a cool video to give your family and friends an idea of what our industry produces: Thanks to sleibson for his post Watch Lexar make them memory chips – Months of time compressed into six minutes of video | EDA360 Insider.

Early in my career, I got to visit the IBM Burlington fab when they were introducing a brand-spanking-new technology called "CMOS". Little did I know that would be my last chance to set foot in a semiconductor fab. So, I'm always fascinated to see how things look today. Some things I learned:

  • there's another domestic fab besides Intel and IBM!
  • Micron owns Lexar?
  • some of the coolest automation is the mechanical stuff, like the wire bonder and the laser marking

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First There Was Semi-Blog

now: SemiWiki! SemiWiki image Created by several fellow EDA bloggers, this is an intriguing new EDA/Chip Design site worth visiting and contributing to.

I know that several bloggers and old ASIC hands wanted to put together an open community for sharing opinions and experiences, and this is the most substantive effort to date. (I tip my hat to John Ford's now-defunct "DFT Digest" site, which was a pioneer in this area.)

Friday, January 07, 2011