February 23, 2004
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on EDACafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor


by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
Posted anew every four weeks or so, the EDA WEEKLY delivers to its readers information concerning the latest happenings in the EDA industry, covering vendors, products, finances and new developments. Frequently, feature articles on selected public or private EDA companies are presented. Brought to you by EDACafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!


“Relative to what we look at in terms of the system or board design world, it's often [perceived to be] less exciting or not as fast moving as the design challenges in the integrated circuit world. But, we're finding that's really not the case, especially right now. There's lots of stuff happening with respect to printed circuit board fabrication. The IC world today is producing high pin count, high-speed chips that are driving the PCB design and fabrication world into new, rapidly advancing areas. In order for the system design to make use of those pins, it's really causing board fabrication to change - and requiring new tools from both a design and verification point of view. These
ICs need
to be optimized for speed, timing, and signal integrity when you put them on the PCB and connect them to the rest of the logic.”


“If we took these developments casually, we feel that some of our leading-edge customers would find that their tools have fallen behind. We're working to not let that happen. We're investing heavily both in R&D and from an acquisitions point of view to keep our customers up-to-speed and ahead of the curve with the advanced technologies coming down the pike. From our standpoint, the printed circuit board world is anything but dull.”


“So, let's talk about two major categories of change currently under way. One area is High Density Interconnect (HDI)/microvia fabrication technology and the other is the area of embedded passives.”


“If you have an IC now packaged with 1500 to 3000 pins, you've got to consider what all that requires when you try to melt that chip onto a PCB. The first thing that's required in dealing with these small packages and dense pin counts is a way to route that device on the printed circuit board. You can't solve it by coming up with a board that's a foot by a foot in size. So, what's happening is that the fabrication industry is moving away from the pure fabrication techniques that they've known really forever in terms of the laminate technology, especially in terms of the relevant dimensions.”


“People have adapted their designs to use microvias on the board which is basically using integrated circuit technology to form the top layers of the board. Many printed circuit boards are now layered laminates (the classical technology) but with additional high-density layers with microvia superimposed on them. You use those extra layers to break out from your IC package to your laminate layers. This is a strategy not unlike that on a chip. Using these strategies, you get a huge savings in terms of the size of your circuit board. The longer you have to run the routing, the more delay you have in the signal, which means you can't capitalize on the performance capabilities of the IC on
the
board. The new fabrication techniques are solving this. So HDI - high-density interconnects and microvias - are the cutting edge in boards today.”


“Also, if you look at the FPGA world, where FPGAs used to only be considered appropriate for glue logic and the more mundane prototyping tasks associated with putting systems together - today, FPGAs are coming into their own in terms of both density and performance. You get in the range of hundreds of megahertz on an FPGA, with capacity for multi-gigabit speeds externally. Melting a high-performance FPGA onto a board needs to be done to capitalize on the increased capabilities of those chips. As a result, even FPGAs are driving the fabrication and design tool technologies to new levels.”


“In the area of embedded passives, there's lots going on there. If you want to mount, for instance, a Pentium IV on a printed circuit board, that requires an ever-increasing number of passive components on the board to make the thing operate properly at speed. A Pentium IV can need up to 400 resistors and capacitors to make it function on a printed circuit board. You can imagine that if you had to mount 400 discrete components next to your IC, it would take up a lot of room and spread your board out significantly. Therefore, a whole new technology, referred to as embedded passives, is emerging. These are basically resistors, capacitors, and even inductors and transformers that you can
embed
inside of the printed layers of the printed circuit board. This allows you to either reduce significantly the size of the board, or allows you to add functionality and obtain optimal performance on the board.”


“This is very important in things like cell phones where size is a driving factor, and you want to put more and more functionality on your product to be competitive. Embedded passives technology is definitely coming into its own. It used to be a very expensive option, but like everything - with use, the price is coming down so that even cell phone manufacturers can incorporate the technology in an economical fashion.”


“As you can see, developments in both HDI and microvia layers, and embedded passives, mean that traditional place and route techniques on a board are moving to a next generation of requirements. Synthesis within the laminate layers is becoming a dominant technique and one that has to be dealt with by the designers and their tool providers. So those are some of the things that are happening in PCB fabrication land directly driven by what's happening in IC design.”


“Meanwhile, new and higher speed ICs are also causing problems that need to be dealt with. For instance, even if you've got an IC operating at 500 megahertz or more on-chip, unfortunately, when you try to run a chip faster than that across a printed circuit board, you end up defeating yourself by having to drive the busses up to 32-bit or 64-bit capacity.”


“Xilinx, for instance, has come out with a family of FPGA technology which includes third generation IO, 3G IO. In that same vein, Intel has what it calls PCI Express, which is a protocol used to communicate between chips in a serial fashion, which allows you to avoid the high bit count bus problem. You can run a differential pair in your PCB that allows you to send your signal between chips in a serial fashion at 3 to 10 gigabits per second, and still achieve the performance that you want and dramatically reduce the number of 32-bit and 64-bit busses. That, in turn, allows you to reduce the size of your printed circuit board - you can go with a smaller solution or put more
functionality in the same space.”


“As a result, a whole new set of design technologies are being required to accommodate these differential pair routings, as well as the analysis of those signals. Today, we need to be able to route those pairs in a finely tuned parallel manner - while taking care how they're terminated - so that signal integrity will remain intact. So then, a whole new generation of signal integrity design and analysis tools is required.”


“I should mention at this point that there's actually a third area of growing importance in printed circuit boards. It's what we call global design. Companies are going global in terms of their design process, in terms of their manufacturing. This means for a company that may be designing a cell phone, they want to design around the world to meet their time-to-market crunches. They might partition their global team in to a digital section, an analog section, and an RF section. They might then have specialists in these three separate technologies in different locations, and the company must coordinate the various teams [to create] one global team. It's very important to these companies
how the technology teams are mixed if they want to 'follow the sun.'”


“This allows a global design team to work on the same board simultaneously. Revisions control is obviously a big part of this. The way we've implemented our tools, you can partition the design, so that there's a master controlling the effort - usually a single individual - who can manage any number of fellow designers, whether the rest of the team is right there in the room with the master, or in a room on the other side of the world. The thing is coordinated by periodic communication over a LAN or a WAN and control commands from the project master.”


“We've invested heavily in this team design functionality in our tools, things that support the master/client relationship. We've developed the system in-house and it's called Team PCB. It's what is needed today as the world gets smaller and companies grow fewer and fewer as they swallow each other up.”


“Our industry is very specialized. Using software for project management that is not specifically developed for the EDA industry is really not possible. Someone developing these management tools must understand both the designers and the tools. If a PLM vendor, for instance, were to try to address the EDA industry with their management tools, it wouldn't be able to address many of the specifics like an EDA vendor could. The same thing, in fact, applies to specific databases - merging design databases back together varies significantly depending on the vendor and the tools.”




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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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