Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
DesignCon 2013 Yields IP, RF, DoE, and Mind Surprises
The test-equipment show yields surprises in RF intellectual property (IP), Android applications, Design of Experiments methods, and the mind of the engineer.
Test-equipment systems like oscilloscopes and related signal-integrity issues may not seem very exciting. But they are essential matters for both chip and board developers. They’re also the main focus of DesignCon.
Over the last several years, this show has added a strong RF and microwave design and test component. At the same time, it has maintained a focus on analog-digital test-equipment systems. That is why this year’s event contained news about RF intellectual property, Android phone applications, Design of Experiment (DoE) methods, and more – in addition to the annual profile of the mind of the typical engineer (see highlights below).
Technology highlights from Day 1:
> Few engineers have the desire or time to sit at a testbench all day. Perhaps that’s why Tektronix introduced three Android applications for use with oscilloscopes. These mobile apps – the first of many – will allow engineers and technicians to remotely monitor and analyze oscilloscope testbench activities while on the road, during meetings, or hammering down a cold beverage at the local pub.
> Do you know that IC and board engineers must increasingly rely on statistical-analysis techniques to deal with design complexity in high-speed signal/data systems? Simply put, instead of using a safe but overly generous design margin that might use more power or limit performance, engineers will need to tighten design margins through the use of statistical-analysis modeling.
In the manufacturing world (e.g., semiconductor wafers), statistical modeling goes hand in hand with a technique known as the Design of Experiments – a way to conduct a controlled experiment. For example, instead of using guard-band analysis (which is often too conservative for today’s design-restricted environment), engineers could use statistical methods to predict if a design will fail. (For reference, see “Trends In Analog And RF IC Simulation.) This is a big problem for signal data.
At the show, Signal Integrity Software, Inc. (SiSoft) announced an interface to SAS’ JMP statistical discovery software. It lets high-speed system designers characterize extremely large design spaces to make system-level engineering decisions.
Factoid: One of the first uses of the DoE approach was a 1747 experiment to develop a cure for scurvy. James Lind, a surgeon on the HMS Salisbury, selected 12 scurvy-suffering sailors. Scurvy results in malaise and lethargy, followed by the formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. The surgeon conducted a controlled experiment. He divided the sailors into six pairs, giving each pair different purported remedies every day including: cider; sulfuric acid; seawater; garlic/mustard/horseradish; vinegar; two oranges and one lemon.
Guess which group improved more rapidly? The men who had been given citrus fruits recovered dramatically quicker – within a week. Oranges and statistical analysis: What could be better?
> Remember the old PC adage, “You’ll never get in trouble for buying IBM?” The same could be said for IP giant ARM – except that ARM has a huge ecosystem of partners. Nevertheless, despite popular opinion, it seems that it’s still possible for an IP vendor to offer a solution that’s better than ARM for specific applications.
CAST, one such semiconductor IP provider, announced and demo’d a 32-bit embedded- systems processor IP that is carried by its partner, Beyond Semiconductor. Here’s the interesting bit: CAST’s BA2 family is royalty-free. According to the company, the product is competitive performance-wise and its instruction set (ISA) can beat Thumb2 in code density. (Smaller code means less memory and better system-wide power savings.)
In addition to CAST’s royalty-free IP, partner Beyond Semiconductor offers a free, Eclipse-based BeyondStudio IDE. That IDE extends the open-source GNU C/C++ language tools for use with Beyond’s BA instruction-set architecture. It now incorporates recent GNU advances by supporting the latest versions of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC 4.7.2) and GNU Project Debugger (GDB 7.5.1). The upgraded IDE also expands features that simplify development specifically for BA22 32-bit processors.
> Should Design Engineers Really Care About Software Piracy? Sherry Hess, VP of Marketing at AWR Corp., spoke about this issue in a Chipestimate.TV video interview that will air early next week.
The gist of her comments comes from a paper given by AWR’s Ted Miracco last week at the IEEE Radio Wireless Week show.
“According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), 42% of the world’s software is pirated with a commercial value of over $63B per year. How do these figures scale down within the wireless and microwave design communities? And what is the cost impact to those that use legal software? Are there variations by geographic region or company size, and how might these variations impact job growth and/or outsourcing of engineering jobs? What can be done to better protect software and intellectual property? Who uses pirated software, and what are the risks for employees and employers? Come hear interesting stories from the front lines in the battle to prevent software piracy.”
Look for more DesignCon news in my next report.