DAC Day Four: Excitement And Risk

Art, a fire in the exhibit hall, risk management and team advice, car races and notions of open-source hardware.

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One thing that was new to DAC this year, was an art exhibit. These were pieces of artwork related to our industry, such as chip plots, or more abstract ideas based on design data or analyses. They received many more entrants than their wildest dreams and had to choose a winner from over 80 pieces, but the grand prize was won by a 3D model of a finFET by David Freid of Coventor. This piece was produced using a multi-colored 3D printer directly from their simulation data.

Coventor Art

David Fried & Chuck Alpert

The morning started with a keynote from Mark Papermaster, CTO and SVP of technology and engineering for AMD. He talked about what it takes to create truly great products and the ways in which the teams need to be put together and the attributes that are required of team members. He talked about the first two waves of computing, including the PC era and the mobile ERA and the new one that has just started that is based on immersion technologies, such as virtual reality. Semiconductor Engineering sat down with Papermaster after the keynote and this will be fully written up in a future article.

Mark Papermaster

Mark Papermaster

DAC was then shut down for half an hour when an emergency caused an evacuation of the building. It is rumored that a light exploded above the Mentor booth which created a few problems and a considerable fraction of the emergency vehicles of the Austin area added to the number of attendees on the show floor. With the excitement over, the previous sessions attempted to carry on where they left off, meaning that everything would be pushed back by half an hour. While this enables all scheduled speakers to have their time in the limelight, it is going to cause considerable difficulties unless everyone makes the same changes. We shall see how things progress.

Eventually, a panel about open source got started. The premise was that open source had been successful in the software domain, but has not made a lot of progress in the hardware arena. Panelists discussed progress in open source processor cores. John Leidel, Texas Tech University, says that open source allows for rapid development of software, but once rubber meets the road with hardware, there are capital costs associated with going to silicon and this is not well understood by the academic community. Aaron Sullivan from Rackspace adds that fabs are not distributable and this is a barrier to open source hardware. A mid-point he sees are FPGAs. Paul Teich from TIRIAS Research says that hardware is proprietary in nature and someone has to make money from it. Open source comes later, but still someone has to pay for it. Randy Swanberg of IBM talked about the tooling available for software, but in hardware far fewer people can play.

The Cadence lunch panel looked at ways to boost productivity deigning custom with the advanced nodes. Tom Quan, TSMC talked about the principle changes with each node down from 28nm including changes from planar to finFET, multi-patterning from double to full coloring. Jayanta Lahiri, ARM said that finFETs had allowed them to lower the voltage but people still want high speed. This means that IPs have to be qualified over a much larger range than in the past. Variations also become a big challenge. Roman Guzman, AMD talked about the challenges with layout rules. Jeff Johnson, Cadence added that it has become difficult for layout designers to keep track of all of the rules.

NXP Cup

NXP Cup US Final Winners

The NXP Cup was held in the afternoon. This was a nationwide competition to design an autonomous vehicle, based on a defined hardware platform that was provided to Universities. Each of the participants in today’s race were regional finalists. The track was new to them and one car failed to complete the course in its three attempts. The other four put up some good times, with the winners coming from UC Davis, completing the course in a little over 15 seconds.

The remainder of the day was taken up with roundtables that will be brought to you in the coming months, but now the exhibit floor closes and DAC is left to the academics. The numbers have most probably been down, but it has been a great DAC and it is still the best place to get the real pulse of the industry.

In case you missed them, here are my other DAC reports: Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.