In previous columns, I explored the shortcomings of today's FPGAs and ICs in terms of package characteristics; the system design problems they are causing; the impact of poorly written application notes and data sheets; and the lack of good test circuits.
The enormity of these shortcomings is apparent only when they are tied to a company's bottom line. That is this month's topic.
The advantage of being on the front line of the industry is that I have firsthand knowledge of the impact of these problems. One client is a case in point. This particular company's goal was to design high-speed PCBs operating at 3.125 Gbytes/second. They chose state-of-the-art FPGAs from a leading vendor for the serial links leading from one board to another. Unfortunately, the chosen FPGAs never performed as promised.
The most disconcerting issue was the total lack of customer support from the FPGA vendor. Each time the FPGA company was asked to help with a technical issue, my client was told that its engineering staff was incompetent. The client was also told time and again that they were the only ones having these problems and that there were any number of customers satisfied with the FPGA. But the names of those customers were never available. It's important to note that the FPGA vendor had never built test circuits using their components as advertised and the application notes were irrelevant. In the end, my client had to switch FPGAs.
My client had to redesign its boards; replace assemblies and have its engineers learn a new compiler and program new FPGAs. This translated into a nine-month schedule impact and re-engineering costs of $20 million. It's difficult to calculate the costs of lost market share.
The bottom line is: How many dollars of lost revenues, schedule impacts and maimed businesses will it take before our industry addresses this issue? As consumers, we would never accept these kinds of defects in the products that we routinely buy for our daily lives. Why are we willing to accept them in the products that supposedly represent the best the industry has to offer?
Lee Ritchey is the founder and president of Speeding Edge (www.speedingedge.com), a consulting firm specializing in the high-speed pc-board and system design disciplines.