Calibre Evolves Constantly

Why some EDA tools have kept the top spot for over a decade.


I find it truly amazing that despite the constantly changing tide in the digital IC design industry that some tools have remained in that number 1 spot for over a decade. The three tools that immediately come to mind are Synopsys’ PrimeTime and Design Compiler and Mentor’s Calibre.

I remember back when I first started covering the industry in the mid-1990s that Quad Design’s Motive static timing analysis tool became the industry de facto standard timing tool for IC design. It was the tool that kept the timing for all other tools in the emerging IC flow and because of this was invaluable. When it wanted to jump into the market with its new PrimeTime, Synopsys had the foresight to realize that if they were going to own the static timing tools market, they could (A) spend millions of dollars marketing it and trying to win the hearts and minds of users, which could take years or decades. Or (B) they could simply buy Viewlogic (who then owned Quad Design) and kill Motive. So they chose B. Needless to say, there haven’t been really any competitors to PrimeTime ever since that Synopsys couldn’t deal with in one manner or another to ensure PrimeTime’s dominance.

Design Compiler is the logic synthesis tool that put Synopsys on the map and remains its flagship product. When Synopsys first introduced the tool in the late 1980s, it was one of many tools in the emerging space of logic synthesis. It ultimately became the market share leader not because it was the fastest or most accurate tool at the time but because it required users focus design efforts using a synthesizable subset of HDLs and made users very productive. Synopsys has continued to refine and reinvent this stalwart tool for decades.

The other tool that has held a lead for several decades is Mentor’s own Calibre. You’ve probably heard the story of how Calibre when it started was initially ignored within Mentor but soon became the standard physical verification tool, the first tool foundries developed rules for and has been ever since the late 1990s.

Perhaps what’s not widely understood and what makes the Calibre story more amazing is that at each and every node, the many brilliant people on Calibre’s development team have to essentially reinvent the tool. You may be saying to yourself – “well, doesn’t that mean that at every node people should evaluate Calibre vs the competition?” The reality is: yes, they should and many do, but it’s a testament to the tool and the team that Calibre’s share has continued to grow.

One might contend that this lead is largely because foundries over the years develop decks for Calibre before they get around to developing decks for competing DRC tools. It is certainly an advantage and one shared by other tools in dominant spots. But it is a privilege that Mentor’s Calibre team has not only earned but re-earns every node. The business reality is if you were in charge of a trillion dollar fab and had tools that were essential for helping customers complete designs and filling your fab line capacity, wouldn’t you go with the tools you trust the most and the tools your customers trust the most?

The Calibre story is great story of hard work by great minds and a great team improving truly complex technology on the design side of physical verification and the manufacturing side of physical verification. What’s more, it is an ever evolving story. So to tell this story better and to help users to use it optimally, we developed an executive series of blogs on, kicking off with the first installment of a series from Mentor’s Minghui Fan and a second from Mentor’s Michael Buehler-Garcia. Read: