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U.S. EDA monopoly may wane

Posted: 18 Sep 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Richard Goering? EE Times? eda? silicon? art of design?

While microelectronics is a global industry, EDA--a crucial enabling technology--has been largely a United States enterprise for decades. Recent developments in Europe may challenge that dominance in years to come. At the Medea+DAC workshop in Prien, Germany, I was impressed with the depth and scope of EDA R&D efforts under way at large European IDMs, research institutes and startups. Cutting-edge work is going on in ESL design, analog/mixed-signal (AMS), DFM, integrated nanoelectronics and other subjects. Europeans have a strong determination to be at the forefront of HW/SW design technology for sub-90nm and multiprocessor SoCs.

Europe has its own distinctive approach, however. While some notable startups have emerged, especially in the ESL market, much of the R&D work is undertaken by large consumers of EDA tools, such as Infineon, STMicroelectronics and Philips. These companies actively collaborate on R&D and standards. Large research institutes like Leti in France or IMEC in Belgium also have active EDA programs.

Much of the European research is backed by government-funded consortia. Medea+, sponsor of the Medea+DAC event, is a pan-European consortium that funds microelectronics research projects in many areas, including EDA. One successful Medea+ project was Anastasia, a broad-ranging AMS effort that brought together European IDMs, systems houses, EDA vendors, universities and research institutes. It culminated in a commercial tool offering from German startup MunEDA, offered in the United States by ChipMD. Medea+ also maintains a comprehensive EDA road map that helps guide funding priorities.

European EDA startups are likely to be spin-offs from a large IDM, a research institute or a Medea+ project. In the United States, startups are more likely to arise in somebody's living room and to be on their own until venture capital funding kicks in. There is, of course, a lot of basic R&D work at U.S. universities. But out in the commercial world, there's less government funding, fewer consortia and research institutes, and less obvious collaboration among large consumers of EDA tools than one would find in Europe.

It would appear that Europe emphasizes more on cooperation, while the United States, on competition. Most Americans would rather have private venture capitalists take risks than taxpayer-supported entities. Moreover, there's resistance in the United States to anything that smacks of centralized planning.

The United States does not need to follow the European model. But no matter how it's done, developing next-generation EDA technology will take a lot of money, an open collaboration among multiple stakeholders and some kind of common vision. The Europeans are meeting those requirements through Medea+ and similar initiatives. To retain its edge in EDA, the United States must find its own way to drive the next generation of IC design technology.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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