Differentiation versus Diversity

Tilera’s Acquisition Means One Less CPU Company

by Jim Turley

Once there was a time when every company had its own unique CPU architecture. Then there was a time when pretty much everyone used the same CPU architecture. Guess which era we’re living in now.

Actually, we’ve experienced both of those extremes multiple times. We have a makings of an industry cycle here. Really early computer companies (Burroughs, National Cash Register, Amdahl, International Business Machines, Data General, Digital Equipment Corporation, etc.) each invented and supported its own proprietary computer architecture. Each processor was implemented in discrete logic and occupied an entire printed-circuit board. Probably several boards, in fact. Software had no commonality at all. IBM machines couldn’t run any DEC software, which didn’t understand NCR code, which was incompatible with DG equipment, and so on.

 

All’s Fair in Love and Power (Consumption)

Fairchild’s New Foray into Smart Power

by Amelia Dalton

Any engineer who is worth his or her salt probably knows the illustrious (and occasionally infamous) tale of Fairchild Semiconductor and the creation of Silicon Valley. Fairchild is certainly one of the most important companies in electronics history. But, what has Fairchild done for us lately? This week my guest is Saj Sahay of Fairchild Semiconductor, and we discuss three megatrends driving innovation in electronic design. It turns out Fairchild Semiconductor is back - with a bold new mission - and they’re doing some really cool stuff in the area of “Power Systems in Package”. As a bonus, we also find out what it’s like to take a run around not one but two olympic stadiums (without having to actually compete in the games). Additionally, we find out how your PCB can have its signal- and power-integrity cakes and eat them too... or something like that.

 

Be a Better Programmer

Fewer Bugs and a Happier Boss, All at the Same Time?

by Jim Turley

We all say we want to learn new things, but the first part of learning is admitting your ignorance. Little kids in elementary school have no problem with this. They’re learning new things every day – every minute – so absorbing new information comes naturally.

But as we get older and gain some measure of competence in our careers, our hobbies, and the world in general, we also tend to ossify. We don’t want to learn because we don’t want to acknowledge that we’re inexpert. Learning a new language means preparing to make a thousand dumb mistakes, garbling the grammar, and sounding like a hilarious idiot to native-speakers. Learning about wine means first acknowledging you don’t know much about wine. It’s the same for electronic engineering and programming. To get better, you first have to concede that you’re not already the best. And that can be hard, especially when you’re confessing your inadequacies in front of your peers.

 

Going Vertical

Ecosystem for Interposer-based Design?

by Kevin Morris

We’ve talked a lot lately in these pages about the impending demise of Moore’s Law. Consensus is that, somewhere around the half-century mark, one of the most astounding prophecies in human history will have finally run its course. Next year, we’ll have a round of FinFET devices that will be so exotic and expensive that only a handful of companies will be able to use them. In the decade that follows, we may or may not reach 10nm and 7nm production - using either esoteric unlikelies like EUV or extreme-brute-force multi-patterning techniques - to solve just some of the multitude of barriers to continued downscaling.

Sci-fi techniques like carbon nanotubes, graphene-based devices, quantum computing, and that other-one-you-read-about are so far from production practicality that we may not see any of them in widespread use in our lifetimes. While incredible research shows great promise for many of these ideas, they are all back in the silicon-equivalent of the early 1960s in their evolution. The time and engineering it will take them to catch up with and eventually surpass what we can do with silicon today is substantial.

 

The Overachieving Middle Child

MIPS I6400 Introduces 64-bit to the Midrange

by Jim Turley

“Bifurcate” is a word you don’t get to use very often. Yet it’s a familiar concept in our industry. Mobile operating systems have bifurcated into the choice between Android and iOS. On the desktop, it’s Windows or MacOS. Verizon or AT&T. Home Depot or Lowes. ARM or x86.

In all of these cases, the big pie chart is pretty much equally divided between two major players, with a thin sliver of “other.” In the desktop environment, the “other” slice of the pie includes Linux: it’s there, but it’s not really used by normal people and doesn’t really compete on the same footing as Windows or MacOS. The mobile OS market includes BlackBerry and Windows Phone, among others, but in the big banquet of life they’re relegated to the kids’ table.

 

The World According to FRAM

TI’s FRAM MCUs and ADI’s X-fest Demos

by Amelia Dalton

In this week’s Fish Fry, we take a fast tour of the world, with interesting stops in FRAM, high-speed ADCs, and remote RF transceivers. Don’t know what FRAM is? Fear not. Will Cooper from Texas Instruments tells us all about this amazing not-so-new non-volatile memory technology, which is really cool - even if I don’t quite agree with his basketball loyalties. Then we’re off to analog land with Robin Getz from Analog Devices where we chat about remote RF transceivers, high-speed ADCs, motor control demos, and a whole lot more. Check it out!

 

Cheap Chips

ASICs for the Rest of Us

by Dick Selwood

We all know the story: ASIC starts are falling as the costs of the design tools, the mask sets and the manufacturing process are all going through the roof. Don't even think about starting an ASIC design unless your budget is measured in millions of dollars. The development process is going to require a large team of engineers. The only way you can make money with an ASIC is to sell many hundreds of thousands of devices, and that normally implies consumer markets. But ASICs take months to years of development – a development cycle that can be longer than the product life of a consumer product, which is typically measured only in months.

But over the last few weeks, I have been talking to people who will happily talk about ASICs that cost only tens of thousands of dollars to design and begin to manufacture, and have a return on investment measured in months. How come there is such a huge difference?

 

Assault on Batteries

The Internet of Things is Going to Need a Lot of Juice

by Jim Turley

I had dinner with a real venture capitalist the other evening, and lived to tell about it. I can’t tell you everything we discussed that night (wink, wink), but I can say that we had a good talk about batteries. No, really.

The VC in question is a partner at one of the primo Sand Hill Road firms and, as usual, he was the smartest guy in the room. Or at least, at my table. The conversation ranged from food, to wine, to rusty cars, to a recent acquisition by Apple. He talks very fast, uses his hands a lot, and compulsively checks his phone during lulls in the conversation. I guess if I could make (or lose) millions of dollars on one call, I’d check my messages a lot, too.

 

Driving Innovation

Model-based Design and Physics-based Acceleration

by Amelia Dalton

In this week's Fish Fry, we're taking the wheel, putting the pedal to the metal, and riding off into the EE sunset. My first co-pilot in the Fish Fry bucket seat is Noam Levine. Noam navigates us to a special place called Model-based Design. We discuss how this design methodology can help move your next design into the fast lane where you might even bypass a prototyping stage or two. Next up in our fast flying EE road trip is a saunter down Semiconductor Lane with Tom Flynn of Coventor. Tom and I investigate physics-based acceleration and check out how you can get your MEMS motor running in zero-to-sixty.

 

The Price of Ignorance

Let’s Get Rich Selling Overpriced Electronics!

by Jim Turley

Apparently, $48,000 speaker wire is a real thing. You can also find $5,000 boxes for “cleansing” the AC power going into your audio gear. (Be sure to order the $1000 power cord to go with it.) Just the thing to complement the $15,000 granite turntable for your old vinyl records.

Audiophiles must be real idiots. And rich idiots – the best kind.

You can now get “oxygen free” speaker wire with gold-plated contacts, carbon fiber ends, several layers of shielding, and your choice of clockwise or counterclockwise twist (for your left and right speakers, obviously). All for the price of a Porsche.

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