I was surprised to find that the biggest booth at the recent Design Automation Conference (DAC) belonged to Silicon Valley Research (SVR). Along with many other industry observers, I had written the company off several years ago, when its stock plummeted below $1 and it was de-listed from Nasdaq.
Now, however, it appears that this IC place and route company may be staging a modest comeback. It's an interesting turnaround story for what may be, in fact, the world's oldest surviving commercial EDA company.
SVR was launched in the late 1970s as Silvar-Lisco, one of the first EDA (then called "CAE") companies. James Benouis, SVR president, told me it was fitting that his company had the biggest booth at DAC 2001 because they're the oldest exhibitor, having started in 1979.
Silvar-Lisco tried to become a full-line EDA vendor, but could not compete with Daisy, Mentor and Valid. Then the company refocused on IC layout tools and was best known for its Gards gate-array layout system. Benouis said that Silvar-Lisco was the number-two IC place and route vendor by the early 1990s, only to be knocked out of that position by the newly aggressive ArcSys, which later became Avanti.
Silvar-Lisco changed its name to SVR and came out with standard-cell place and route tools. But the company could not keep up with very deep-submicron tools from Cadence Design Systems and Avanti. By the late 1990s, SVR was struggling with low revenues and high losses and had all but disappeared from the EDA radar screen.
Benouis became SVR president in 1998, after SVR bought his design services firm, Quality IC Design. It was not an easy position to walk into. Since then, however, SVR has brought out QIC/APR, a "sub-$100,000" deep-submicron layout system that includes area-based place and route, top-level channel routing and chip assembly. It works with the Design Cockpit Platform (DCP), which lets users integrate third-party tools.
QIC/APR isn't aimed at the biggest or fastest chips. It's primarily used for chips with fewer than 2 million transistors. But Benouis said his company is seeing a lot of interest from startups who aren't doing huge chip designs and can't afford Cadence or Avanti tools. Meanwhile, Gards is newly available at www.eecad.com at rates as low as 10 cents per minute.
With annual revenue of about $2 million, half products and half services, SVR still has a ways to go. But after nearly three decades, the 25-person company is still in the running in the EDA "survivor" game.