When you think of analog design tools, what comes to mind? I know from research I have personally conducted that many board designers will answer that question with Webench or LTspice. And rightly so — these were among the first tools created to help engineers use analog ICs.
It is becoming commonplace for engineers to use such tools to speed up certain steps in their design processes. Analog IC vendors understand that, and today more than two dozen of them offer a design and/or simulation tool to their customers.
In most cases, these tools are focused on the design or simulation of a single IC. But you probably don’t design single ICs, do you? Consider designing a power supply for an FPGA. It’s not uncommon for FPGAs to have 6, 8, 10, or more power rails, each with its own requirements for current, voltage, and regulation; and a sequencer IC may be needed to manage all the DC/DC converters powering those rails.
A different kind of design tool is now available that addresses multi-chip power designs, such as the aforementioned FPGA example. These recent tools offer capabilities such as:
- Requirements management for an unlimited number of power rails
- Compatibility with Altera Early Power Estimator (EPE) and Xilinx Power Estimator (XPE) spreadsheets
- Flexibility to customize the power design block diagram by inserting or removing loads and power supplies, assigning rails to single or multi-output ICs, favoring switching or linear regulators, etc.
- Guidance in selecting the most appropriate IC for each rail
- Automatic error checking to ensure each device’s voltage and current needs are met
- Integration with automated tools to design and simulate the individual power ICs
- Support for developing the rail sequencing and choosing a sequencer
- Instant generation of complete, professional-looking reports
- Design sharing with colleagues across the hall or across the world
Arrow Electronics, Maxim Integrated, Texas Instruments, and Vicor have led the way in developing design tools to address the multi-rail, multi-load, multi-chip power design challenge.
The newest such tool is EE-Sim System Power from Maxim Integrated. Offering all of the capabilities listed above, it greatly speeds and simplifies power design for SoCs, ASICs, processors, and FPGAs. Shortly after its release, one user claimed, “I was able to do a complex power design for a customer in two hours instead of two weeks using EE-Sim System Power.”
To see EE-Sim System Power in action for yourself, register here for TechOnline’s “Accelerate Your Power Design for FPGAs or SoCs” webinar on Wednesday, July 30.
Another recent entry in this space is the PowerBenchTM WhiteBoard from Vicor. It allows designers to create and analyze power system designs using Vicor’s high-density, high-efficiency power components. Like EE-Sim System Power, the PowerBench WhiteBoard gives the user freedom to arrange circuit elements and create any topology they desire.
Texas Instruments’ offering in this space, the Webench Power Architect, also facilitates multi-rail designs but takes a different approach concerning the block diagram. Rather than having the user design the block diagram, the tool itself determines it. The user decides whether to optimize for smallest footprint, lowest BOM cost, or highest efficiency, and the block diagram is modified accordingly.
Semiconductor manufacturers aren't the only ones interested in supporting their customers with system power tools. Arrow's Embedded Systems Power Designer is a multi-rail, multi-load power system design tool offering many of the same capabilities already described. It is unique in that it includes power ICs from a variety of semiconductor companies. Note that Arrow also offers a second tool, the Linear Technology FPGA Power Designer. As the name implies, this second offering focuses exclusively on power solutions from Linear Technology.
Expect the number and the breadth of these tools to continue to grow as the IC companies seek new ways to offer more complete solutions to their customers. One key challenge the toolmakers face: understanding what functionality will be most useful to engineers in future tools. Do you have an opinion? What features or new tools would make your design process easier, faster, more effective, or more enjoyable?