Mentor Buys Berkeley Design

Updated: Acquisition turns up stakes in analog/mixed signal verification.

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Mentor Graphics announced today that it has acquired Berkeley Design Automation, staking a claim on the expanding market for analog, mixed-signal and RF verification.

The deal puts Mentor on firm footing against Synopsys and Cadence, just as the opportunity for the Internet of Things (IoT), including automotive and medical design, begins to show real promise. Until this move, Mentor has largely been in the backdrop with AMS verification. It has played a small but significant role in analog circuit simulation for PCBs and SoCs.

By acquiring BDA, Mentor gains the ability to design very large, complex analog/mixed signal circuits at the most advanced process nodes. “We’ve been missing a product that enables us to do competitive replacement,” said Robert Hum, vice president and general manager of the DSM division at Mentor Graphics. “This circuits were either too big or too long to simulate. This allows us to handle high-end, huge circuits.”

This is particularly important at advanced nodes — in the analog world, that’s anything below 65nm, but particularly at 20nm and beyond — where the impact of low voltage, noise, thermal and other physical effects can affect signal integrity. BSD’s main focus has been on these complex circuits, while Mentor’s focus so far has been on process variability and analytics. As a result, the two companies rarely saw each other competing in the marketplace, according to Ravi Subramanian, BDA’s president and CEO.

AMS design and verification has become a hot button for many companies lately, particularly with process variability at advanced nodes and the growing emphasis on sensors everywhere. Cadence and Synopsys have been making acquisitions of their own to cement their place in this market.

“There are three islands of analog/mixed signal in semiconductor design today,” said Subramanian. “The first are at the most advanced nodes, which are 20nm and below. I/O is the big issue there, and 30% to 40% of the die is dedicated to AMS due to I/O. The second group, which is between 65nm and 28nm, involves image sensors, temperature sensors, motion and fusion sensors and RF transceivers, and they are being combined with digital and application processing.  The third group, which is 130nm and higher, aren’t at the most advanced nodes but they need the most sophisticated analysis. These are for markets such as automotive and industrial.”

Historically, all three of EDA’s top players have had analog/mixed-signal offerings and have completed acquisitions – sometimes quietly, sometimes more publicly in order to bolster their positions in the space. Particularly with the opportunities in the IoT, the EDA players having been keeping a close eye on the intersection of analog/mixed-signal and digital domains.

In just one example, last year Cadence acquired Cosmic Circuits Private Limited, a leading provider of analog/mixed-signal IP based in Bangalore, India. As Cadence’s Richard Goering wrote at that time, “Cadence thus far has focused on high-value, differentiated IP for memory, storage, and high performance interfaces. Cadence does have some analog/mixed-signal IP, such as SerDes, but Cosmic Circuits will greatly expand the analog/mixed-signal part of the Cadence portfolio.”

More announcements in this space are expected as the need for a strong IoT offering comes to bear and the need to thoroughly simulate analog/mixed-signal SoCs becomes more acute.

Terms of the Mentor-BDA deal were not disclosed.

BDA, a startup funded by Bessemer Venture Partners, had been in litigation with Cadence until January, when the two settled their dispute. Cadence had sued BDA in April 2013, claiming BDA’s Analog FastSPICE simulator linked to Cadence’s Virtuoso ADE without an OASIS interface license. The two companies signed a multi-year agreement to support interoperability and BDA paid Cadence an undisclosed amount of money. How that settlement plays out after the acquisition by Mentor remains to be seen.

—Ed Sperling and Ann Steffora Mutschler contributed to this report.