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 The Breker Trekker

Archive for 2016

SoCs in Space!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

The title of last week’s post was a play on a Mark Twain quote. This week I draw from a more contemporary source: The Muppets. Some episodes of the legendary family TV show featured a skit called “Pigs in Space.” In my head I’m reading “SoCs in Space!” with the same booming intonation used on the show for “Pigs in Space” to lead into a somewhat more serious discussion about the use of advanced chips in extreme conditions.

My prompt for this particular post came not from TV, but from an announcement yesterday that VORAGO Technologies is offering an ARM-based microcontroller (MCU) “designed specifically for radiation and extreme temperature operation without up-screening.” In other words, they ship an MCU that’s ready to use in such traditionally challenging environments as automobiles and industrial controllers as well as, yes, space. That got me thinking about even more complex chips such as SoCs and the extreme conditions they might have to face.

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The Report of Simulation’s Death Was an Exaggeration

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

With a nod to Mark Twain, this week I’d like to comment on a recent three-part series with the provocative title “Are Simulation’s Days Numbered?” The articles were transcribed from one of the “experts at the table” events that SemiconductorEngineering does so well. Breker wasn’t involved in this particular roundtable, but I enjoyed reading the series and found that it stirred up some thoughts. As a blogger, of course I’m going to share them with you and I hope you enjoy them in turn.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: in three parts and more than 5,000 words, there was no mention of portable stimulus. That might not seem too surprising given the title, but in fact verification portability both from IP to system and from simulation to hardware arose during the discussion. So I’ll comment on that but, given my background as a vendor of formal EDA tools and reusable IP blocks, there are a few other topics that also piqued my interest.

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Catching Up with Portable Stimulus

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Ever since Accellera started the Portable Stimulus Working Group (PSWG), this emerging technology has generated a lot of buzz both within the EDA industry and among our semiconductor and systems customers. As the pioneer in this technology we get a lot of questions about what portable stimulus is, why it is different from the Universal Verification Methodology (UVM) and other established approaches, and why anyone would need it.

We’ve devoted quite a few posts to this topic in The Brekker Treker blog, stretching back two years to when Accellera first set up a proposed working group (PWG) to survey the industry and decided whether standardization of portable stimulus was feasible and desirable. Given the many posts scattered throughout the past two years, we thought that we would take this opportunity to give readers new to this topic a guided tour of the information that we have available.

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Designers and Verification Engineers: Living in Different Worlds Together

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

As I discussed at last week, there are many different engineering roles involved in the development of a large, complex semiconductor device. The EDA industry attempts to serve nearly all of these groups, from the architects and product marketing engineers who dream up the new ideas to the technicians who test production parts on the factory floor. Today I’m focusing on the work of two of EDA’s most traditional customer bases: hardware designers and hardware verification engineers.

Perhaps I’d better explain my title. It comes from an old expression “we went to different schools together” that I remember hearing as a youngster. Sometimes this refers to two people who didn’t actually attend the same school but who are nevertheless longtime close friends. But I’ve also heard it used to refer to two people who did in fact go to school together but had very different experiences. This latter context is the one I have mind for design and verification engineers who work on the same project yet inhabit different worlds.

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EDAC Expands Its Scope but Misses an Opportunity

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

I expect that the activities of the EDA Consortium (EDAC), our industry’s main trade organization, are followed more closely by EDA vendors than users. However, some of you may have seen the recent publicity surrounding the organization’s name change to the Electronic System Design Alliance (ESDA). I applaud this move because it reflects the gradual but ongoing merger of EDA and embedded systems, a topic that we have covered here on The Breker Trekker in the past.

However, I do have two reservations about the specifics of the name change. First, as some people have pointed out, “ESD” is strongly associated with “electrostatic discharge” for us engineers who have worked on actual lab benches and not just in the world of abstract EDA models. But that’s a minor quibble as far as I’m concerned. My bigger issue is that EDAC did not use the name change as a chance to expand from “design” to “development” in its description of scope. Please continue reading as I expand a bit on all three of these points.

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Merger Mania and the Still-Changing Semiconductor Landscape

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

We try to cover a variety of topics here  in The Breker Trekker blog, focusing on technical information but mixing in some general industry analysis as well. Two of our most popular posts of all time have involved the annual semiconductor supplier rankings from IHS, Inc. and the large amount of semiconductor industry merger and acquisition (M&A) activity over the last few years. IHS released their 2015 results yesterday, so it’s time for an update on both of these topics.

Let’s start by catching up on the M&A front. When we last covered this topic in January, the acquisition of Freescale by NXP and the acquisition of Altera by Intel had both just completed late last year. These closed in time to be reflected in the 2015 supplier rankings. There were several other deals from 2015 that were still pending and, while some of them have now closed, their effects will not be seen until the 2016 results are in.

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It’s Never too Early to Start Thinking about DAC

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

For those of us who have been in the EDA business on one side or the other (or both), the Design Automation Conference (DAC) is one of the highlights of every year. I almost hate to admit it, but this year holds DAC number 29 for me. I’ve been to San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, and Orlando, most of them multiple times. But one of the most fun locations was Austin, where DAC was held for the first time three years ago, and where we will return in just a few short months.

There will be plenty of time later for us to fill you in on what Breker will be doing at DAC this year. Since the program for the 53rd annual conference just went live, I thought I’d share some initial impressions and predict some likely highlights. Of course as an exhibitor I’m already deep in planning for the show, but I encourage all of you to review the program and start making your own plans. You’ll be sure to have lots of fun in Austin, and on the basis of the information available today I’m sure that this will be a great show.

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A Portable Stimulus Standard Will Take Time, but the Technology is Here Today

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Last week, we used an update on the Accellera Portable Stimulus Working Group (PSWG) presented at the Design and Verification Conference and Exhibition (DVCon) as a jumping-off point to discuss the status of this standardization effort and some key aspects of the three proposals currently under consideration. We were not the only blog to cover portable stimulus topics from DVCon; Brian Bailey of SemiconductorEngineering and Bernard Murphy from SemiWiki also posted their observations.

Earlier this week, EDACafe blogger colleague Peggy Aycinena posted a thought-provoking look at PSWG and the portable stimulus challenge. In regards to the scope of the proposed standard, she noted “a distinct wow factor in all of this, it’s so comprehensive” and said “this whole effort seems massive to me.” Today we’d like to respond to Peggy’s comments and questions, noting both the challenges of a portable stimulus standard and the availability of a working solution today.

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A Snapshot Update on the Accellera Portable Stimulus Effort

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

As all of our regular readers are aware, the software-driven SoC verification space pioneered by Breker is becoming more of a mainstream approach every day. One good barometer for the industry shift now underway is the standardization effort in progress within the Accellera Portable Stimulus Working Group (PSWG). The amount of interest in this standard has skyrocketed recently, and portable stimulus was a hot topic at the Design and Verification Conference and Exhibition (DVCon) two weeks ago.

As we promised when we first began discussing the PSWG, we don’t believe in sharing internal details of standardization work in a public blog. However, the group was offered a slot to present an update at an Accellera-sponsored lunch during DVCon. So the PSWG put together a set of slides with information to share publicly and Vice-Chair Tom Fitzpatrick of Mentor did a nice job of presenting them. For those of you who could not attend, we’ll summarize the current status in today’s blog post.

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DVCon Panel: Trying to Define the ESL Shapeshifter

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

In last week’s post on The Breker Trekker we summarized activities at the Design and Verification Conference and Exhibition (DVCon) in San Jose, including a brief mention of the “Redefining ESL” panel on Wednesday morning. I attended this session and took detailed notes in anticipation of blogging about it, but in the process gave some thought to my own opinions about the electronic system-level (ESL) domain and how they intersect with those of the panel participants.

The panel was organized by Dave Kelf of OneSpin Solutions and PR guru Nanette Collins, and moderated by Brian Bailey of SemiconductorEngineering. Brian is a long-time observer of the ESL market so I expected him to ask some tough questions. He opened by remarking that the term is generally credited to the late EDA analyst Gary Smith. Many of us who knew Gary sometimes teased him a bit on his regular pronouncements that “this will be the year of ESL.”

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