Actel Sees Applications for FPGA/Analog Hybrid
Many times, we create a new technology with the knowledge that it has tremendous potential but without a clear idea of how it will ultimately be used. Or, we create a solution to one problem only to find later that our invention was even more useful in some completely different area. We throw our new creation out to the public and are amazed when someone comes up with a far more clever way to use it than we had ever envisioned.
This may be the case with Actel's "Fusion" family of analog-capable FPGAs. Sure, the company had a pretty good idea that engineers would find the combination of programmable digital fabric and real analog I/O useful, but we always suspected that the "killer apps" for Fusion would be discovered by the engineers that started using the devices, not by the factory.
Magma’s SiliconSmart, Now With Functional Recognition
ICs are made primarily with transistors, adorned here and there with the odd resistor or capacitor. The intentional ones, that is. Yes, the parasitics are everywhere. And we’re excepting DRAMs here. Their capacitors are odd, but in the bizarre sense, not in the rare sense.
And yet most IC designers never touch a transistor. Particularly digital designers. For them, transistors are buried deep below layers of abstraction, hidden safely inside the library, where all is dark and mysterious. Transistors can be summoned by describing behaviors in, say, C, from which they can be morphed into RTL, which then gets transmogrified into gates, which get munged into combinations of library cells, wherein lie transistors.
For those of you old enough to remember, “Let’s get small” was a line that got big laughs. Nowadays it’s a serious business plan. Small, light, and power-efficient chips are all the rage. Especially the power-efficient part. Hypermiling hybrid owners have nothing on today’s microprocessor designers, who are wringing every last erg out of every last joule. How’s that for nerd appeal?
Today’s case in point is Microchip’s new NanoWatt XLP microcontrollers. The “NanoWatt XLP” part is just Microchip’s brand name for its power-saving technology; the chips themselves are pretty normal for Microchip. There are 16 new members of this family, twelve of them 8-bitters and four 16-bit devices. You can find the whole lineup at www.microchip.com/XLP.
2009 Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Tells a Story
American Football has the Super Bowl - but that just honors the best team for a single year. Baseball - the "world" series - but that only covers one country. The Academy Awards - outstanding achievements in motion pictures worldwide, still just for a single year. The Olympics honor the best of the best in a number of activities once every four years. The America's Cup - up for grabs about every three* (*subject to legal review.) We, however, were gathered for something much bigger than all those put together, and it was all in celebration of achievement in engineering.
The room wasn't all that large, given the grandeur of the assembly. Three dozen or so circular dinner tables radiated out from the stage in the banquet hall at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. The occasion was auspicious enough - the 50th anniversary of the IC (and the 25th anniversary of the FPGA) and the 2009 induction ceremony for the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In addition to the fifteen honorees (whose accomplishments we will discuss in a moment), some thirty former inductees were gathered to celebrate.
There have been a lot of new faces springing up in the timing and signal integrity (SI) analysis market over the past few years, and the trend appears to point toward products that deliver quick and reasonably good timing signoff, with some signal integrity analysis tacked on as an afterthought. This prompted us to ask: Just how important is noise analysis accuracy and quality?
To answer this question, we first looked back at the history of noise analysis and how it evolved from being a nice-to-have security blanket to an integral part of design closure. To make a long story short, signal ntegrity analysis began to catch on in 2000 as 180nm - 130nm design starts increased. By 2002, new 90nm design starts began to ramp and by 2004, signal integrity analysis went mainstream, becoming a ‘must-have’ to ensure reliability while maintaining design margins. Today, SI fixing is a regular part of the design closure loop and a standard offering of all signoff timing solutions.
A Look at Functional Qualification
If a bug exists in a design and nobody notices, it is still a bug?
This question is more than just a play on the more familiar sylvan conundrum. And its answer is actually more nuanced than you might think. It transcends what would appear to be a simplistic peaceful Zen interlude to an otherwise hectic design schedule. Its subtlety keys off of what is meant by the word “notices.”
There are two ways in which a bug could be noticed. The one that matters, the most important one, the one for which millions of dollars are spent in verification, is in using the system containing the design. If the system fails, then the bug got noticed.