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Maxim Integrated - Integration Nation
Doug Grant

Analog Integration Can Be Like Playing With Fire

Doug Grant
Brad Albing
Brad Albing
3/28/2013 11:10:43 AM
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Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
We can just hand-wind some inductors, add a few shunt capacitors - just try some different configurations until we get one that works.

That was my design technique when I was 14, but it's hardly suitable as a manufacturing strategy.

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eafpres1
eafpres1
3/21/2013 2:37:46 PM
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Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
@Brad--If I had nickel for everytime somebody said "it's easy"!

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Brad Albing
Brad Albing
3/21/2013 2:00:10 PM
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Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
Geeze - "Hey it's just a radio receiver, how hard can it be?" So, all you had to do then would be to figure out a way to make that monopole antenna look like a muliti-pole, multi-zero filter. "Hey it's just RF, how hard can it be?"

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goafrit2
goafrit2
1/22/2013 11:44:46 PM
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Master
Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
Sure, analog integration is challenging and could be difficult. But I do not see it as  playing with fire. One of the things people do not understand is that for a great product to be built, there needs to be a process. Process here is not the fabrication process but business process. I have designed, integrated MEMS devices which require both mechanical and electrical parts under different technologies and they worked fine. The secrete is seeing the big picture and getting guys to understand how the small pieces make real impacts in the final project.

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Via Man
Via Man
1/21/2013 9:56:31 PM
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Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
Very excellent points regarding analog/mixed-signal integration. No one should go off and design and fabrication a mixed-signal chip just for the fun of it. There are usually very compelling reasons why a designer considers mixed-signal ASIC integration:

 
  • Cost reduction
  • Size, Weight, Power (SWaP) improvement (sometimes SWAP+C)
  • Form-Fit-Function replacement of an obsolete part
  • Improved manufacturability
  • Enhanced reliability
  • IP protection (although not impossible it is harder to reverse engineer a chip compared to a parts on board design)


Now, before you read any further I am the VP of Marketing for Triad Semiconductor and our goal is to make mixed-signal chip design available to everyone.

How do you reduce fabrication cost of mixed-signal ICs?

Full-custom IP developers at Triad assemble die with analog and digital IP. This IP includes: resistor arrays, capacitor arrays, switch arrays, op-amps (many styles), power transistor arrays, high-voltage tiles, band-gaps, current steering DAC sections, configurable I/O, digital tiles, ARM Cortex-M0 processors, SRAM, NVM memory,...


The IP is arranged in tiles that are mixed-and-matched throughout the die. These resources are then overlaid with a patented global routing fabric and wafers contaning these die are partially processed and staged at the foundry awaiting a single mask layer change to customize or configure a user's design onto the via configurable array (VCA).

Since only a single mask layer needs to be changed to configure a VCA the fabrication costs are a tiny fraction of traditional full-custom IC development costs.

What do you do when the silicon doesn't match the simulation?

Since via-configurable arrays (VCAs) are built from silicon-proven IP blocks there is a high degree of coorelation between VCA simulation models and actual silicon results.

But seriously, this is mixed-signal design and if somebody ever tells you that you should expect first-time success with a mixed-signal design then calmly but quickly leave that PowerPoint presentation.

Unlike a digital ASIC where you can often fix problems with metal-only changes and "spare logic", a mixed-signal circuit is more-often-than-not going to require all layer changes. These all layer changes require the expense of a completely new mask set and you have to wait three months to get new parts back.

Since VCAs are single mask configurable, the expense to make a fix or change to a mixed-signal VCA is minimized.

VCAs require only a single mask fabrication step at the foundry meaning that new parts can be fabricated, packaged, tested and delivered to you in as little as four weeks. So, when a problem happens (and even if the chip is right the marketing guy will be asking for one more feature) you can fix it quickly and inexpensively.

How can a non-IC designer design mixed signal chips?

Historically, if you wanted to design your own mixed-signal IC you needed to be an expert in full-custom analog IC design and layout and you needed to own all the expensive tools associated with that kind of design. Our mission is to bring the FPGA business model to analog IC design.

(bit of an aside here) Note: I didn't say that we wanted to make an analog FPGA because we don't think field-programmable analog circuits have the right mix of performance and affordablity that most of the market needs. That's why we focus of high-performance, cost-effective VIA CONFIGURABLE analog & mixed-signal.

To bring the FPGA business model to configurable analog IC design we need to drive the Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) costs of making your own VCA down to zero. So far, Triad has radically reduced the cost of developing a mixed-signal ASIC with our VCA technology.

To reduce the outsourced NRE charges for IC development down to zero, you will need to do the VCA design yourself. But what if you are a systems designer and not an IC designer.

ViaDesignerTM - Mixed-Signal IC Design Tools for Systems Designers

We've developed a high-level mixed-signal design and simulation environment that combines: Schematics, VHDL-entry, Verilog-entry, SPICE simulation, digital simulation, VHDL-AMS modeling and simulation and a true mixed-signal simulation engine. To simplify the design process the ViaDesigner software comes with a library of mixed-signal design wizards. The wizards allow you to specify major block requirements and the wizard generates high-fidelity models and circuits for blocks including: op-amps, prog gain op-amps, fully differential op-amps, TIAs, high-voltage circuits, integrators, filters, sigma delta modulators, ADCs, DACs, power management blocks, voltage references, ...


 

One-chip fever can be fatal or it just might spread like wildfire.


I know - none of this is possible. And yet, VCA technology is already being used in mission critical defense applications, protects workers from noxious gases, is utilized in FDA Class II medical devices, and is shipping in the millions for commercial applications.

 

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Lee H Goldberg
Lee H Goldberg
1/18/2013 5:53:02 PM
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Newbie
Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
Ouch! Even though I'm somewhat "RF-challenged" I feel your pain. Your comments about letting digital types like me attmept to design Wi-Fi gear  finally explain why several early adapter cards from leading brands were prone to tricks such as being horribly uni-directional because they allowed the laptop to completely shield one side of the antenna. I also suspect that poor RF grounding schemes contributd to their wonky behavior.

And your comment about "interesting" non-sequetur questions reminds me of a gullable marketing person I knew when i built spacecradt for GE. I was helping them out by leading a tour of our plant to some VIPs. We toured the design and subsystem assembly areas as well as the hgh bays where we assembeld the spacecraft and then proceeded tothe thermal-vac facility where we had a 65 foot vacuum chamber that simulated space conditions. After explaining how we used a mechanical "roughing" pump" to pull most of the air out of the chamber before we engaged the mollecular pumps which would take enough remaining molecules out to simulate a 350-mile orbit, I jokingly explained that we usually did not engage the third set of pumps because pumping he gravity out of the chamber used too much electricity.

That got a good chuckle out of my guests and I didn't think anything more of it until a couple of months later when a buddy of mine who'd helped me run the tour told me that he'd been down at the thermal-vac chamber when the marketing person came through with another tour. Apparently, she took the joke I made seriously and was solemnly telling her guests how the test engineers "simulated space conditions by pumping all the gravity out of the chamber".

Whether it's reducing bandwidth in antennas or pumping gravity, giving a layperson a little technical information can be a dangerous practice.

 

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eafpres1
eafpres1
1/18/2013 4:36:32 PM
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Blogger
Re: One-chip fever can be fatal
I was selling antenna solutions for things like PCMCIA WiFi cards at about the same time, even a little earlier.  Everybody was doing reference designs and needed an antenna solution and none of them had ever actually done any RF.  It was a wild few years.  When the dual band stuff started appearing we would get "interesting" requests, such as could we reduce the bandwidth (yes, reduce) of the antenna in certain areas of the spectrum?  They wanted the antenna to be a filter becuase their front ends weren't right and stuff between bands would add to noise.  

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Lee H Goldberg
Lee H Goldberg
1/18/2013 4:03:50 PM
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Newbie
One-chip fever can be fatal
You make some excellent points here - I appreciate them even though most of my design experience is in the digital side of embedded systems. You are indeed correct that the realities of the techical universe and the business universe are nearly orthogonal to each other at times and that the pressure from marketing types to integrate can have terrible consequences. 

I spent many years covering the beginnnigs of the 802.11 standard (WiFi to all you latecomers) and the race to deliver products to support it. Back in the late 90's I watched several comapnies breathlessly announce their "single-chip solutions" for dual-band (2.4 & 5 GHz) radios but refuse to discuss the technical details of how they managed to get any kind of performance using the bulky, slow CMOS processes availiable to them at the time. In fact, they really were not able to and those products were quite terrible compared to the 2- and 3-chip solutions available at the time.

But these one-chip wonders were cheap, and an entre generation of laptop adapters and base stations emerged with worse range and throughput than the previous genration. The crappy chips were so prevalnet that I advised my friends to hold off on buying anyWiFi gear for a year unless they could be assured that the chip set they used was not made by one of the three comapnies who integrated too soon and too much.

I also suspect that the failure to meet customer expectations was a primary contributo to the demise of two out of those three companies.

 

 

 

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