I attended portions of an EE Times “virtual” system-on-chip (SoC) conference last week, and came away with some observations that I’d like to share. There is some irony here. After years of writing about Cadence and other EDA vendors for EE Times, I am now reporting about an EE Times event for the Cadence Industry Insights blog.
This was the first on-line conference and exhibition I have attended in recent times. There are some obvious advantages to this format. You don’t have to travel anywhere, you can listen right from your desktop and “attend” only those presentations that interest you, you can fire off questions to panelists and presenters, and you can participate in live chats. One interesting feature at the EE Times conference was the ability to see who else is attending, and send them e-mails.
There are, however, some differences compared to live conferences. Listening to an on-line conversation and viewing slides is not the same as being in the room. Typing questions is less direct than striding up to a microphone. You don’t physically run into acquaintances in a hallway and have unexpected but helpful conversations. Still, as Grant Martin noted in his blog about the event, there are parts of the format that work fairly well – such as keynotes, webinars, and panel discussions.
SoC Verification Panel
There was some good content at the EE Times event. In particular, there was an SoC verification panel that resulted in a good discussion, particularly about ESL. I would have expected more discussion about IP integration and verification reuse in an SoC conference, but what was said about those topics was interesting. For example:
Brian Bailey, consultant: “Design time has been assisted by bringing in large quantities of IP, but we haven’t really gotten to the point where we can reuse without re-verification. IP may be saving design time, but it’s doing very little to help on the verification side.”
Nick Heaton, senior architect at Cadence: Verification reuse is more than just verification IP. “What we really need to make an impact in the ESL space is the availability of verification at the TLM level, and easy migration from TLM down to RTL. Synthesis is one aspect, but we also need to be able to reuse testbenches, test scenarios, coverage, and reference models between the two abstraction levels.”
Janick Bergeron, Synopsys fellow: The big challenge with virtual prototypes is to get them to talk to other abstraction levels. Once that’s done, the prototype becomes an important element of the verification flow. “You can use it as a reference model and your testbench. You can develop a huge number of tests against your prototype.”
Tom Sandoval, CEO, Calypto: Japanese companies are broadly deploying ESL design and verification methodologies today, allowing “reuse at a completely different level of abstraction.”
Another panel on “Economics of Next Generation SoCs” made some interesting points, most notably the contention that design teams are significantly under-estimating costs to develop SoCs. This may be a good topic for future blogs.
Chats and Exhibits
I listened in on “scheduled chats” on mixed-signal design challenges and EDA in 2020. I have to say I’ve never been drawn to Internet chats. You’re limited by the typing speed and skill of participants, and with the lag between question and answer, you get into overlapping conversations. There was, however, some interesting engineer-to-engineer interaction in the mixed-signal chat.
The “exhibits” basically consisted of graphics with menus that provided access to selected sets of datasheets, tech papers, webinars, and other resources. One option was a “booth chat” with a representative. Cadence was one of the exhibitors.
On-line conferences are relatively easy to produce and attend, and they have a lot of advantages. They will not completely replace live events like the Design Automation Conference. There is still an advantage to being there in person, talking and meeting with people you didn’t expect to meet, and seeing things you didn’t expect to see. But I think we’ll see a lot more on-line conferences in the future, along with some innovative and interesting additions to the format.