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A New Breed of Analog Design Tools

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.”

Figure 1

Example block diagram from a multi-rail, multi-load, multi-chip power design tool

Example block diagram from a multi-rail, multi-load, multi-chip power design tool

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?

25 comments on “A New Breed of Analog Design Tools

  1. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    @Erin, thanks for the update. I have registered for the “EE-sim system power” webinar and looking forward to participate in that.

  2. skiingvike
    July 30, 2014

    Your welcome!  Enjoy the webinar, and please post again if you have suggestions about future enhancements or expansion ideas for this class of tool.

  3. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Sunita: Anyone has archives of it ? 

  4. Netcrawl
    July 31, 2014

    @SunitaTO its a great tool! the Texas Instruments-National Semiconductors merger is a game-changing event, it will enable more powerful analog design tools, the two companies will work together to integrate the breadth of their combined portfolio into something new.

    Can you imagine the combined strength of the two companies? more visual, enhance experience and more intuitive, Analog circuits are quite different, they're sensitive to layout and proximity with demanding interface requirements. There's a great need for a new breed of tools.

     

  5. Netcrawl
    July 31, 2014

    The EE-sim system power could be abig help for analog designers, the tool could enhance the design algorithms and speed up development, can't wait to see this  one. 

  6. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    @Sunita: Anyone has archives of it ? 

    @chirshadblog, try registering for the same link. I think that webinar is archived.

  7. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    There's a great need for a new breed of tools.

    @Netcrawl, I totally agree with you. I think the best way to build such tools is if companies start collaborating with each other. I think we should have more industry standards so that we can encourage building such new breed of tools.

  8. Netcrawl
    July 31, 2014

    @SunitaTO its a nice tool for a fast-evolving electronics world, traditionally analog and digital were separate world, both are highly specialized disciplines with success determined by clean handoff between the two teams- analog and digital.

    A new discipline is emerging today, they called it” mixed-signal verification” this one goes beyond it require some good skills and knoowledge in mixed-mode simulation and test bench development. That's why we need to learn more and educate, the webinar could provide some boost for us. 

  9. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    A new discipline is emerging today, they called it” mixed-signal verification” this one goes beyond it require some good skills and knoowledge in mixed-mode simulation and test bench development. 

    @Netcrawl, I totally agree with you. There are already various methodologies available to verify Analog Mixed Signal Verification, but they lack in ensuring 99.99% functional correctness of Design. I am curous to know how to ensure that the functional correctness of the Design is taken care ?

  10. Sachin
    July 31, 2014

    Anyone has archives of it ? 

    @chirshadblog, I just registered to the website and it says “This presentation will be available on July 31, 2014 at 11:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time”. I am not sure if the archive also plays on specific time.

  11. geek
    July 31, 2014

     

    “A new discipline is emerging today, they called it” mixed-signal verification” this one goes beyond it require some good skills and knoowledge in mixed-mode simulation and test bench development.

    @Netcrawl: It this new discipiline a mature, commercially stable technology? Or is it something that's being experimental in nature and being worked upon in the lab?

  12. geek
    July 31, 2014

    “I think we should have more industry standards so that we can encourage building such new breed of tools.”

    @Sunita: I think industry standards are mostly developed when there's a strong industry body that not only is powerful but also has good reputation from all the different kinds of members. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

  13. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    It this new discipiline a mature, commercially stable technology?

    @tzubair, this is already stable technology and is already being used in the industry. Just search for mixed-signal verification you will get lots of materials related to that.

  14. Netcrawl
    July 31, 2014

    @tzubair this is about achieving better verification of analog and digital interface, and verifying the the increasing amount of logic in analog designs. Verification is key and simple simulation is no longer adequate. Its something that we're heading( I think). 

  15. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Netcrawl: Yes we will have to face it no matter what it makes us out of it but identifying the outcome will help to mitigate the risks a bit

  16. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @yaland: Thank you for the update mate. Got some homework to do now 

  17. skiingvike
    August 1, 2014

    I just tried the above registration link, and the archived version of the webinar is now available.  You can view it at your convenience.  Just follow the registration process and you'll be able to launch it.

  18. amrutah
    August 1, 2014

    SunitaT0:  I must agree and disagree with you here.

      I agree that EE-Sim, Webench are great analog tools and it allows its customer to get a feel for the power rails and architecture that they want to build and we need more sofisticated tools like these.

     I disagree when you say we want the companies to collaborate to come up with a universal tool.  These simulators are a part of the marketing that help the customers to choose particular IC's and companion IC's.  Each of them have their own architecture, advantages and disadvantages.

  19. Davidled
    August 9, 2014

    Most tools have block diagram with input pin and output pins. So, as I see this diagram, it looks so similarly to other tools such as Mathlab and National Instruments Labview. One of advantages of this tool might have engineer understand easily at least in the visual perspective.

  20. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >> Texas Instruments-National Semiconductors merger is a game-changing event

    I had expected the merger to be blocked by the regulators. Very interesting they approved it thereby consolidating power in his hands.

  21. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >> The EE-sim system power could be abig help for analog designers, the tool could enhance the design algorithms and speed up development, can't wait to see this  one. 

    It will be a great product for the community and we cannot wait to start using it. Analog design tool that will enhance design algorithms and speed up development is a welcome product.

  22. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    I totally agree with you. I think the best way to build such tools is if companies start collaborating with each other.

    There has never been a record where companies collaborate to build tools. The only that can happen is to work together to set standards that will be interoperable. Think of BSIM and SPICE flavors. They collaborate for BSIM standards but anyone can go and build its SPICE tools.

  23. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    A new discipline is emerging today, they called it” mixed-signal verification” this one goes beyond it require some good skills and knoowledge in mixed-mode simulation and test bench development

    I do not think mixed-signal verification is largely new. Sure, there are better tools helping but when you look critically, the analog section is largely sequesterred from the digital. I have used many of those tools, while they are robust for digital design, they struggle for analog development.

  24. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >> I am curous to know how to ensure that the functional correctness of the Design is taken care ?

    Is that a question? You compare sims with your math. If you have a deviation, that will be obvious.

  25. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >>  I disagree when you say we want the companies to collaborate to come up with a universal tool.

    I did comment that it will be impossible to do that since making tools is not the business most of these companies are into. The people that use them are different from people that make them. So, any collaboration means there is no more business and it is now a charity.

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