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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

SWVP: Gary Smith’s Four Horsemen of the Approximation

June 14th, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena

Everybody loves the phrase, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but usually don’t remember the specifics. According to Wikipedia, the horsemen each ride a steed of a different color – white, red, black, and pale – and thunder towards us bearing apocalyptic messages of Conquest, War, Famine and Death. You know: The stuff of video games and CGI blockbusters. Ignore them and you lose.

This year at DAC, GSEDA analyst Gary Smith presented his own apocalyptic message in back-to-back presentations on Sunday evening, June 3rd, and again on Monday morning, June 4th.

Why was Smith’s message apocalyptic? Because he too had four horsemen, and they too cannot be ignored. Without them, products will fail. It’s that simple.

Smith’s horsemen are neither rapacious nor ravaging, however. Instead, they represent the methodical four-step process for co-development of hardware and software, which if done properly moves to completion in carefully controlled lock-step and produces successful results.

Replacing Apocalypse with Approximation, Gary Smith’s Four Horsemen of the Approximation represent Design Exploration (not Conquest), Making Apps (not War), Firmware (not Famine), and Sales & Marketing (not Death).

And why is this analogy useful? Because it has helped me sort out what I heard in San Francisco. I was at Smith’s presentation on Sunday evening in the Marriott Hotel immediately after the EDAC reception at the opening of DAC, and at his presentation on Monday morning at the Pavilion Stage in the opening hour of the 2012 Exhibit Hall. In addition, I was given a set of handouts with all of Gary’s slides.

Studying all of it carefully, I think my evaluation’s correct: Gary Smith’s Four Horsemen of the Approximation are the four types of Software Virtual Prototypes, SWVP.

SWVP No. 1: Architect’s Workbench used by Architectural Team for design formation and exploration, microprocessors selected, foundation platform selected, and some application platforms.

SWVP No. 2: Applications code written.

SWVP No. 3: Firmware written, applications code runs on Silicon Virtual Prototypes checking for latency and power.

SWVP No. 4: Product Marketing & Sales use to check out design with prospective customers seeking feedback and modifications.

You see, they’re all important, you need all four, and just like their Apocalyptic cousins, the Four Horsemen of the Approximation demand respect and attention. If handled properly, they’ll work as a team, thunder past your toughest design challenges, and deliver excellent, predicable results each and every time. Ignore them and you lose. It’s that simple.

Meanwhile, let’s take a moment to recall our dear departed EDA360. In that particular taxonomy – announced in April 2010, trumpeted at DAC in June 2010, and whisked off to enigmatic oblivion by the summer of 2011 – Cadence parsed the conversation about EDA into 3 Musketeers: Silicon Realization, SOC Realization, and System Realization.

I spent a lot of time studying that taxonomy and wrote about it here. Unfortunately, I was not alone in concluding that EDA360 waffled between being far too difficult to grasp, or far too easy – so much so, that many mistook it for a simple repackaging of age-old concepts in design automation.

Nonetheless, EDA360 ignited a spirited conversation across the length and breadth of EDA and from what I can tell, Gary Smith’s Four Horsemen of the Approximation promise to do the same.

If parsing the design process into four successive stages of Software Virtual Prototyping can help people better understand what they’re already doing, not only will they feel more confident moving forward, they’ll also understand why what was supposed to be an impossibly expensive process has now been downgraded to something that may [almost] come in under budget.

I think.


Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)


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