Since consumer electronics is the primary driver for IC and systems design, what happens at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) should interest the EDA community. Any trends in new consumer devices will point the way to design challenges EDA tools will have to solve.
From looking at blogs and media coverage of CES, I can see two interesting trends – “tablet” PCs and e-readers. Tablets or “slates,” as some call them, are keyboard-less mobile computers that use touch-screen technology. It sounds like the next step up from the iPhone. In fact, many observers expect Apple – which is not at CES – to roll out an “iSlate” in the near future.
Computer on a chip
What’s going to power tablet PCs? Nvidia hopes the answer is the Next Generation Tegra, introduced at CES January 7. The original Tegra, introduced last June, was billed as “the world’s first single-chip computer capable of the rich high definition and Internet experiences we’ve come to expect from our PCs, but on small pocket type devices.” In other words, it’s a highly-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) that no doubt contains some significant analog/mixed-signal content.
The new Tegra is billed as the “world’s first processor for the mobile web.” It has 8 processors, including the first dual-core CPU (an ARM Cortex A9 running up to 1 GHz) for mobile applications. The processors can be used together or independently to minimize power usage. The Next Generation Tegra was designed in a 40 nm TSMC process with active power management. It claims to be so power-efficient that it can deliver 16 hours of HD video on a single charge.
From a chip design standpoint, the Tegra shows us that both high performance and low power – with no compromises – are going to be essential for mobile applications. For systems companies designing tablet PCs, Nvidia offers a Tegra Development Kit. I have a feeling that the main challenge for slate providers will be embedded software, and virtual platforms could be helpful here. If I’m going to use a PC with no keyboard, it had better have a really, really good user interface.
The other CES trend is e-readers – lots and lots of e-readers. They are now adding features like color screens, interactive graphics, and magazine-style layouts. Maybe they will give new life to “print” publications.
One e-reader that seems to be drawing a lot of interest at CES is the Que ProReader from Plastic Logic. The size and thickness of a pad and paper, it aims to become a “paperless briefcase” for business professionals. Rick Merritt has an interesting article in EE Times in which he interviewed Frank Canova, vice president of product engineering at Plastic Logic, about the design challenges behind the Que ProReader.
Canova doesn’t talk about designing chips, so I’m going to assume that Plastic Logic is primarily a systems integrator. The main design challenge, it appears, was form factor. The e-reader is one-third of an inch thick at its center, tapering down to just 4 mm at the edges. “I spend a lot of my time getting component vendors to focus on physical packaging,” Canova commented in the article. Many components were rejected because they were too thick.
From these examples, it appears that EDA tools aimed at mobile consumer applications will need to support the following:
Analog/mixed-signal SoC integration on a large scale
- Effective power management for ICs and systems
- GHz timing performance
- Giga-gate complexity
- Hardware/software integration and co-verification
- IC/package/PCB design and co-design for small or unusual form factors
Cadence is actively involved in all of the areas listed above.