SANTA CRUZ, Calif.Making its strongest endorsement yet of third-party EDA tools, Altera Corp. has announced OEM deals to resell synthesis and simulation tools from Synopsys and Mentor Graphics. The deals underscore the growing importance of HDL-based synthesis and simulation in high-density FPGA design.
As part of its Quartus and Max+Plus II development environments, Altera will provide a choice of Synopsys' FPGA Express or Mentor's Exemplar LeonardoSpectrum synthesis tools. Altera will also provide Mentor's Model Technology ModelSim VHDL and Verilog simulator.
Altera tool pricing will remain the same at a $2,000 annual subscription for PC-based licenses, and the Synopsys and Mentor tools will be sent as upgrades to some 20,000 current subscribers in March, marking one of the largest infusions of HDL-based design tools to date. The OEM tools work for Altera devices only.
Altera has historically opted to do its own tool development, and currently offers its own VHDL and Verilog synthesis as part of the Quartus and Max+Plus II packages. But the company has come to realize that third-party synthesis tools do a better job with high-density logic, said Erik Cleage, Altera senior vice-president of marketing.
"We decided it was to our advantage to bring the best possible performance capability to customers, and that comes in the form of these third-party tools," said Cleage. "It also allows us to de-prioritize our synthesis development in favor of improving placement and routing tools, where we think we can best leverage performance."
Altera does not offer an HDL simulator, and has so far seen very limited use of HDL simulation among its customer base. But the company feels simulation will become increasingly important as densities grow, and that's why Altera opted to bring in the ModelSim tool, Cleage said.
Seeding the base
Since Altera's pricing is far below what Synopsys or Mentor would charge for standalone offerings, these companies can't expect to make a lot of money from the OEM deals. But getting tools to Altera's huge customer base is a good strategy, said Anne Wagner, general manager and vice-president of Mentor's HDL division.
"Now we have OEM deals with all the major FPGA companies," she said. "This puts my FPGA design tools in the hands of more than 85 percent of the designers out there. It's a good deal for us in terms of seeding the market and a huge business opportunity for us."
The Synopsys and Mentor tools that are part of the OEM deals only come with libraries for Altera devices. Both companies thus assume that some users will pay to upgrade to full-fledged standalone tools to gain universal device support.
Cleage noted that Altera resold Exemplar synthesis several years ago, in Verilog only, before that company developed its own Verilog synthesis. Altera also worked with Synopsys last year to create an Altera-specific version of FPGA Compiler that was made available to Synopsys Design Compiler users at no charge.
The latest OEM agreements, however, are Altera's most extensive in terms of third-party EDA tools. "It's a change in philosophy in the way we deploy third-party capabilities," said Cleage.
As of today, Cleage said, most designers working with Altera Flex and Apex devices use HDL synthesis. Most working with the less complex Max devices use Altera's AHDL language, or schematic entry. But use of HDL simulation is far less prevalent, because users can simply program a device, plug it in, and see if it works.
"Some people think it's better to simulate less and take full advantage of programmability," said Cleage. "Frankly, we push that view. But clearly there's a growing tendency to simulate."
Altera pledges that the Synopsys and Mentor tools will be closely integrated with Quartus and Max+Plus II. "It will be much more fluid in terms of going from one tool to the next, and it will allow parameters to be passed more efficiently," said Dave Greenfield, director of tools marketing at Altera.
But, Greenfield said, Altera designers can still use other third-party synthesis and simulation tools "very efficiently."
The Synopsys and Mentor tools will be available March 2000 with all new subscriptions, and will be sent as an upgrade shipment to subscribers at that time. Altera charges $2,000 annually for PC-based licenses, and $2,995 for Unix-based licenses.