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EDA in the 1980s – the “Dazzling Decade” of Electronic Design Automation

Comments(0)Filed under: EDA, Industry Insights, CAE, SPICE, DRC, OrCad, synthesis, Cadence, Mentor, Synopsys, PSpice, system-level design, Verilog, PCB CAD, Valid, EDA history, Daisy, Tangent, 25th anniversary, Dracula, 25 years, Gateway, ECAD, 25th, workstations, schematic capture, hardware modeling, CMP Media, EDA in 1980s, silicon compilers, schematic entry, 1988, design automation, 1980s, Meta-Software, High Performance Systems, Apollo, framework, SDA

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cadence in 2013, it's interesting to reflect upon the state of the EDA industry at the time Cadence was formed. Since the two companies that merged to form Cadence in 1988 - ECAD and SDA Systems - were launched in 1982 and 1983 respectively, Cadence was actually "in formation" during most of the 1980s.

And what a decade it was! In the 1980s the commercial EDA industry went from virtually nothing to a $2.5 billion business, EDA tools spread throughout the electronics industry, and by the end of the decade virtually all chips and boards were designed using some sort of EDA software. Thanks to EDA software and a surging ASIC market, chip design was no longer confined to a few large companies with big internal CAD organizations and fabs.

I wrote a 10-year retrospective of EDA for CMP Media's High Performance Systems magazine in December 1989 (don't look for it online, this was way before the World Wide Web). The article was titled Design Automation: The Dazzling Decade. In the article, I noted that the EDA revolution of the 1980s hinged on three dominant themes:

  • EDA went from batch, mainframe-based software to interactive, single-user workstations and PCs.
  • EDA moved from proprietary tools inside a few large companies to commercial tools aimed at the "average" designer.
  • Design environments began the transition from point tools to integrated design suites (a trend still ongoing today).

Indeed, the term "EDA" itself was a mid-1980s invention. EDA as we know it today began with "CAE" (computer-aided engineering) companies offering front-end design tools. When these companies started to offer "CAD" (physical IC and PCB) tools as well, and people got tired of writing "CAE/CAD," the term "EDA" was coined.

$120,000 for Schematic Capture

The "big three" CAE-then-EDA vendors in the 1980s were Daisy Systems, Valid Logic, and Mentor Graphics. All sold workstations bundled with software. Daisy and Valid built their own workstations, and Mentor resold Apollo workstations. Mentor's 1982 Idea Station integrated schematics, logic simulation, and documentation on the very first Apollo workstation - the 0.3 MIPS DN100 - for the tidy sum of $120,000.

By the mid-1980s you could buy mail-order schematic capture software for $500 from OrCAD (now part of Cadence). That shows how fast things moved in the 1980s.

Here are some other key developments in the 1980s, as noted in my 1989 article:

  • Chip designers began the move from gate-level schematics to RTL hardware description languages. The Verilog language and simulator was developed by Gateway Design Automation (acquired by Cadence in 1989). VHDL was adopted as an IEEE standard in 1987, and vendors started to support it with simulation tools.
  • Logic synthesis emerged from research labs to become a commercial product. The Socrates program from General Electric was the forerunner of the Synopsys Design Compiler, introduced in 1988 with Verilog RTL support.
  • Believe it or not, people were already talking about "system-level design" and there were some products. Endot Inc. sold N.2, a simulation environment with behavioral modeling, and Silc developed SilcSyn, a behavioral synthesis tool with a proprietary language.
  • One idea that didn't work out as planned was "silicon compilation," which promised that engineers could produce IC layouts automatically from high-level descriptions. But some aspects of that technology proved useful later in IC layout.
  • Hardware-assisted verification tools got their start with "hardware modeling" from Valid Logic. Later in the decade Valid, Zycad, and others developed simulation accelerators.
  • The SPICE simulator, developed at U.C. Berkeley in the 1970s in a batch, time-sharing environment, became a commercial product available on workstations (HSpice from Meta-Software) and PCs (PSpice from MicroSim). Valid put together Analog Workbench, an integrated environment including schematics and SPICE simulation.
  • SDA Systems pioneered the concept of a "framework," an integrated suite of tools that uses a common database and user interface. Working closely with U.C. Berkeley, SDA developed a single, object-oriented database for IC schematic, simulation, and layout tools.
  • ECAD introduced fast design-rule checking (DRC) with Dracula, one of the best known and most widely resold EDA products of the 1980s. ECAD added electrical rule checking, layout-versus-schematic, and extraction, all widely used technologies today.
  • Mentor, Valid, Daisy and others offered full-custom layout editors. ASIC placement and routing tools emerged from companies including Mentor, Silvar-Lisco, and Tangent Systems (acquired by Cadence in 1989).
  • 1970s PCB CAD systems were automated drafting systems that run in batch mainframe or minicomputer environments. Daisy, Mentor, Valid and others brought PCB CAD to workstations, and by the end of the decade $500 software packages were available for PCs.

This list could be much longer, but I hope it gives you an idea of the "dazzling decade" that EDA went through in the 1980s. The commercial EDA industry as we know it was born in that decade, along with the beginnings of much of the EDA technology we use today.

And the excitement went on. As noted, ECAD and SDA Systems merged to form Cadence in 1988, and Cadence acquired Gateway and Tangent in 1989. Cadence was the leader in IC CAD in 1989, and became the second largest EDA provider in 1990. In 1991, following the purchase of Valid Logic, Cadence became the EDA revenue leader.

We'll be writing more about Cadence and EDA industry history during this 25th anniversary year. Stay tuned!

Richard Goering

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