Change is inevitable as design teams face shrinking resources, shorter
timelines and mounting complexity. Every system on chip (SoC) designed today is
not digital or analog but a combination of both. There really is no longer any
digital design or analog design. We’re entering an era of true mixed-signal
SoCs, with digital signal processors, CPU/GPUs and analog blocks defining every
What’s more, the investment community is taking notice. The semiconductor
startup with the biggest chip is not always funded. It’s the company designing a
chip with an architecture that differentiates and almost always is now a mix of
analog and digital that attracts attention these days. The most differentiated
chip is capturing the wave of interest and that chip is based on a combination
of analog and digital parts. Gone are the days when a semi startup could enter
the market with a digital chip a few percent smaller in die size than the
nearest competitor. In fact, the demand for mixed-signal chips has exploded,
with the market growing from $2 billion in 1998 to more than $25 billion today.
EDA software provides great capabilities but is often behind the curve when
it comes to supporting new and emerging technologies or finer technology process
nodes. As the semiconductor industry moves to integrate analog and digital
components, design gets more complex. Just consider:
• Designs are getting larger but design teams aren’t — they have to stay the
same or have to get smaller to be profitable, while project schedules continue
• While today completing one million instances on the digital side alone can
take four to five days to, designers should be enabled to complete multi-million
digital instances in a day for mixed signal designs to succeed.
• Ping Pong is fun for a game, not so much fun for taping out a chip.
Designers must be able to close quickly even the toughest designs.
• Power reduction has reached critical proportions due to mobile devices, and
has to be considered throughout the entire flow.
• Design reuse has to move from a buzz word to a method across digital and
• Verification has to move to correct-by-construction
To enable designers to meet these challenges, the wall between analog and
digital design must be dismantled. The EDA industry can help remove it by
providing a solution to seamlessly mix the two signals.
What’s currently available for integrated analog and digital design is error
prone and time consuming. To implement these larger, more differentiated SoCs,
such a solution needs to be more fully automated to offer design teams increased
productivity, and deliver better performance and quality of results. A fully
mixed-signal environment must have a strategic component for chip planning.
In addition to software for analog and digital design, the tool should offer
a rich feature set of library (from I/Os, standard cells and analog block)
characterization tools, chip finishing, physical verification and yield
management. It’s essential for mixed-signal SoC tools to leverage
multi-threading and multi-CPU servers to cut turnaround time without
compromising design performance. New high-capacity timing and extraction
technology is needed to improve static timing analysis throughput with
Take sign-off, for example. Static timing analysis tools in use today are
about 15 years old with sequential runs for handling variability, leaving one to
wonder about their capacity limitations or how fast and accurate they are.
This tsunami within the ocean of electronics is changing semiconductor
design. There is no digital design, there is no analog design, but truly a mixed
design in SoC. With it comes a tremendous opportunity for EDA. If EDA can catch
the wave through the innovation of smarter, higher capacity tools for
mixed-signal SoC design, it will truly be epic.
About the author:
Rajeev Madhavan is chairman and CEO
of Magma Design Automation Inc. (San Jose,
Rajeev Madhavan has served as chief executive officer and chairman of the
board of directors since he cofounded the company in 1997, and also served as
president until 2001.
Madhavan presently serves on the board of directors for the Electronic Design
Automation Consortium. Prior to founding Magma, he co-founded and served as
President and CEO of Ambit Design Systems, Inc. and co-founded and served as
Director of Engineering of LogicVision, Inc.
Madhavan received a bachelor's degree in electronics and communication from
KREC, Surathkal, India, and a master's degree in electrical engineering from
Queen's University, Ontario, Canada.