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Give PCB computer-aided design its due

Posted: 01 Jun 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:richard goering? ee times? silicon? eda? spotlight?

pcb computer-aided design gets no respect. With about 12 percent of overall EDA industry revenue, it is marked by sluggish growth, little or no startup activity and few announcements of new technology. But PCB computer-aided design is an essential part of the electronic design process, and there are some relatively new capabilities you should know if you're involved with board design.

Although board design does not face an immediate hurdle like the movement of integrated circuits to the 65nm and 45nm process nodes, PCBs are getting fasterwith an increasing number doing so over the 100MHz mark. Chip integration results in fewer overall packages, but creates packages that are far more complex and more difficult to integrate onto boards. Signal integrity problems can ripple through chips, packages and boards, and thermal issues mount at high clock speeds.

So while the conventional PCB layout market isn't growing much, virtual-prototyping tools are catching on. According to Gartner Dataquest's new "EDA Market Trends" report, those tool sets can run layout and analysis concurrently rather than sequentially, moving analysis higher up into the design flow. They also give the engineer a "virtual cockpit" from which to drive the design. The primary providers are cadence Design Systems, Mentor Graphics and Zuken.

Dataquest also tracks five categories of board analysis tools: signal integrity, timing, electromagnetic compatibility, thermal and power. A respectable 8.6 percent compound annual growth rate is predicted through 2009. Some analysis tools will fold into the virtual-prototyping tools over time. That's probably a good thing, because many of these problems really need to be solved concurrently rather than one at a time.

Thermal concerns are new for many board designers, but they are becoming significant as central processing units grow more powerful. Thermal issues affect timing, signal integrity and electromagnetic compatibility. One company, Flomerics, currently dominates printed circuit board thermal analysis, but this area may well attract further interest over time.

EE Times has written about emerging IC/package/board "co-design" tools. Companies that design ASICs, ASSPs or FPGAs and put them on boards need to consider many issuesfrom pinouts to parasitic package impedancethat can potentially result in printed circuit boards that don't work.

PCB virtual prototyping, signal integrity analysis, thermal analysis, electromagnetic compatibility and IC/package/printed circuit board co-design are all good bets for holding on to a career that's just as vital as those of your ASIC design counterparts.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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