Real men don’t use tools

I don't know what the analog community has against EDA tools. National Semiconductor's Bob Pease has on-going rants against analog simulators: “Why use Spice if it's going to lie to you?” he says. And Linear Technology Corp.'s Jim Williams, in one of his talks at the Analog and Mixed Signal Applications Conferences I used to chair [those are coming back, BTW], showed a picture of a computer graphics workstation with a glass of white wine sitting next to it and a rose draped across the keyboard, and asked his audience: “Is this the way you do your design work?”

Listen: You know the IC designers can't live without EDA tools, especially high-powered simulators. We're seeing devices now with 15 million transistors on them, and projections for 50-million-transistor SoCs not too far down the road. If 49,999,999 of those transistors work, and one of them doesn't, you're down a hell of a lot of money. If were up to me, I'd simulate that sucker to death. Hurray for companies like Nassda, whose highly-tuned full-chip circuit simulators take some of the pain out of these otherwise lengthy performance assessments. Hurray for Cadence who is still buying up analog companies; hurray for Ansoft whose capabilities have grown with every industry move toward higher clock speeds. Hurrah for East-Bay startups like Legend who've applied analog tools to things like memory characterization.

Why then are the board-level system designers so squeamish about simulating a design targeted for production? As Intusoft's Tim Ghazaleh points out in his feature article in this month's issue of the Planet Analog magazine supplement, Spice vendors will often stock 40-60,000 models – enough to assess your favorite part types into a new design. Monte Carlo simulation, he reminds, is not just for IC designers, but can also predict how board-level products will hold up under a variety of manufacturing and field use conditions. At the very least, check out the full text and screen captures from Tim's article coming online later this month. Like those elegantly-made battery-powered hand drills sold at Home Depot, you may start out liking the look and feel of it in your hand, and then find, after a couple of projects, you can't do without it.

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