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Is EDA's world too provincial?

Posted: 01 Apr 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fpga? pcb? asic? digital asic design? embedded software?

The stronghold of the EDA world is, and always has been, digital ASIC design. But it's a dwindling stronghold that represents only a fraction of the electronic design world. If EDA wants to come out of its current stagnation, it may be time to broaden the focus.

A "seat count" report issued by Gartner Dataquest in January showed that there were only about 56,000 ASIC design seats in 2004, a number that's expected to decline to 39,000 by 2008. The total number of semiconductor design seats was pegged at 192,000 for 2004, with a CAGR of just 1.3 percent until 2008.

In contrast, the report cited 537,000 FPGA and PCB design seats in 2004, growing at a 2.9 percent CAGR. Granted FPGA and PCB designers don't spend as much money as IC designers, but there are a lot more of them. And there are tough problems that could prove very lucrative for vendors that have solutions. For example, FPGA designers need to look at power and signal integrity, and PCB designers are having a hard time getting IC packages to work on boards.

The seat count report also cited rapid growth in electronic system-level design seats. What's interesting here is that many of the users are well outside the traditional EDA audience. These include systems architects who use Matlab or Simulink and embedded-software developers who have had little automation help in the past.

There are far more software developers than hardware designers in the world, and software is increasingly becoming a bottleneck for getting embedded systems out the door. Some of the techniques that have been used to automate hardware design, such as synthesis and formal verification, could have parallels in the software world. But because the budgets haven't been there in the past, the market is largely untapped.

Also outside the traditional EDA world are IC and PCB manufacturing. People in mask shops are laboriously reverse-engineering IC layouts to generate mask data and re-applying optical proximity correction following respins and engineering changes, adding millions of dollars to mask costs. Getting them some help may be just as important as getting chip designers to use design-for-manufacturability tools.

Finally, few end-products consist only of chips, boards and software. There's usually a mechanical component as well. That's designed with totally separate tools, with little or no exchange of information with EDA tools, although the electronic and mechanical portions of a system must interact.

If we take a step back and look at all that's necessary to put a cellphone in someone's hand, we can see that there's a lot more than digital ASIC design. It also requires analog components, one or more PCBs, lots of software and a mechanical housing. If the EDA industry wants to extract more value, it may be time to tackle larger problems.

- Richard Goering

EE Times

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