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February - 2003 - issue > Cover Feature
Reinventing Electronic Design
Himanshu Singh
Thursday, January 30, 2003
A FEW YEARS AGO DESIGNING A CHIP WAS A rather simple affair, since designers functioned almost independently. This was the era when the four distinct features that constituted chip design - digital logic, embedded software, PCB design and analog design were approached separately and in a different manner. These barriers are fast disappearing with rapid convergence of the digital design chain taking place. The electronics design industry is continually searching for new ways to break down barriers and develop improved methods to build tomorrow's products. With the emphasis on smaller and smarter chips, which consume less power and allow for a longer battery life companies have two key challenges to meet:

• Rapid evolution of technology and dramatic increases in complexity are changing the electronic design ecosystem.

• Convergence of design processes driven by the proliferation of System-on-Chip (SoC) and mixed signal SoC devices.

It would be almost impossible to design highly integrated devices without removing the barriers between today's four distinct design domains. The three major areas where convergence needs to be addressed are:

Hardware-software convergence: Hardware and software interactions present a difficult design trade off. Designers must find ways to maximize intellectual property use and stay consistent about the accuracy of models throughout the design process. The success and profitability of a design process are determined by design decisions made early in the design process.
Digital- Analog Convergence: The percentage of mixed-signal ICs is expected to rise from 20% to nearly 75% over the next 5 years. Designers must tale strategic ROI decisions including the digital-analog ration to run on a chip.
Silicon-Package Board Convergence: PCB design applied to IC design is becoming increasingly innovative. Issues relating to PCB convergence will have a tremendous impact on industry.

In an era when time-to-market can determine the difference between success and failure, challenges of design convergence needs to be met in an effective new way. For this, there needs to be increased interaction not only between members of the design team but with customers and suppliers. IC design engineers who are in the forefront of this movement must stay abreast with the latest advances and decide on the right mix of tools to ensure success in the most efficient manner. Designers are looking at partnering with fewer vendors to help standardize their tool sets and provide complete integrated solutions. Most successful electronic design companies are focused on integrated solutions that have facilitated increased convergence in the design chain and break down the barriers:

• In hardware-software convergence, available solutions include a co-verification environment for creating mixed-signal SoCs and co-verifying entire systems, as well as emulation and acceleration products that provide efficient hardware-software co-verification prior to silicon. In addition, designers have access to a rich set of application-specific platforms and hardware and software IP for a wide range of applications.

• For digital-analog convergence, there are tools that unify the digital IC implementation path and the analog-mixed-signal implementation path. Long-term projects and industry initiatives bring these worlds together. Design flows must be integrated and industry-standard interoperability platforms for mixed-signal SoCs are being developed.
• In PCB design, engineers now have access to solutions that provide electrical analysis and physical design from silicon through its package to PCB through another IC's package and to its silicon.

The Electronic Design discipline has matured to encompass a wide array of tools like EDA tools, VLSI design, verification and simulation libraries for product parameters, assembly tools, foundries and tool rooms. The result has been the creation of avenues and opportunities for the establishment of niche players in various facets of electronics design.

The current trend of moving towards nanometer scale design will significantly effect the entire electronics deign industry.

The next few years will herald the advent of a number or remarkable new applications as a result of design convergence and electronic design companies will provide tools, services and infrastructure make this reality.

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