POSTED ON NOVEMBER 9, 2020 UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 9, 2020
I first met up with Lauro Rizzatti of EVE, back in 2010, along with Montu Makadia (now, with Mentor). Back then, emulation was strong, (and, remains). EVE had launched the Zebu Server, a scalable emulation system handling 1 billion ASIC gates. This was much before EVE was acquired by Synopsys in October 2012.
At that time, the global semiconductor industry was on the up, after some down cycles. It had reached close to US$ 300 billion at the end of 2011. The dominance of East Asia and China was getting stronger in semiconductors. If I am correct, East Asia and China comprises about 75 percent of the global semiconductor industry today.
Dr. Wally Rhines was the CEO of Mentor Graphics, there were some talks about 450mm fabs (where are they, today?), MEMS was growing, with new devices likely in handsets and laptops, Altera was around (remember this FPGA company?), as was Xilinx (till it was bought by AMD this year), while Magma Design Automation was still present in the EDA industry. IoT was still raw, there were initial talks about forming Industry 4.0, while there was no sign of 4G in India.
Three trends in emulation for 2021
Back to Lauro Rizzatti! Memories are too deep, and I got carried away!!
It was a pleasant surprise to bump into him again, this time, virtually, after so many years, and after so many changes in the technology world. Being an emulation expert, naturally, I asked him about the three trends that he sees for emulation in 2021?
Lauro Rizzatti said that first, emulation is today a mandatory verification tool, and there will be more of the same in 2021. All of the AI, 5G and self-driving vehicles designs need emulation. RTL simulation is still widely used for block level, and perhaps, for small (few million gates) IoT designs with very limited embedded software contents, but not for system level validation. I expect to confirm the above in 2021.
Second, there will be the rise of enterprise-class FPGA-based prototyping platforms. FPGA prototyping has been around for almost 40 years, but it has been mostly confined to in-house activities plus a bunch of small commercial outfits with very few (1 to 3) engineers working from their garages or basements. They all shared the same approach: 1 to 4 FPGAs on a board, clocked at 10MHz to 200MHz, and lots of manual efforts to make it working.
The enterprise FPGA prototype platform is a scalable engine that can be configured with hundreds of FPGAs, clocked at 1MHz to 10Mhz, and massive software support. The question is, what’s the difference between an enterprise-class FPGA-based prototyping platform and a hardware emulation platform? This is a topic for my upcoming articles.
Third, there are three hardware emulators vendors designing their next-generation machines, pushing the capacity envelop well beyond 10 billion ASIC-equivalent gates. In 2021 some of them will make announcements.
Three trends in semiconductors for 2021
This is a pet question now: asking folks for the trends ahead. Naturally, to Rizzatti, too!
He said that the three segments served by semiconductors are literally exploding with attention and lots of money: AI, 5G and Self-driving vehicles (including drones).
Not only are the big guns enjoying good times, but a plethora of startups are also springing up all over the world. Some will succeed, and many will fail, but that’s the name of the game. There are exciting times to play in these industries today.