Thursday, October 12, 2006

SI evangelist on a mission

Not sure about using VHDL-AMS? Bill Hargin, a hard charging Mentor Graphics signal integrity marketing manager, may have you in his sights.

I had a latte and chat with Bill (pictured) on his latest pass through San Jose. He has been selling big chip makers such as Intel and Texas Instruments as well as small design and training companies about the advantages of VHDL-AMS which is at the heart of Mentor’s SI tools. If he is successful in his effort to build an eco-system around the technology, it could help set it as a standard for the advanced IBIS modeling specification in the works.

“We just need to get more models out there,” Bill said.

The former mechanical engineer has a solid appreciation for today’s SI issues as well as a bent for metaphors. Here are two quick examples:

The problems in high-speed SI today are like those of a house with old plumbing: Turn a faucet off quickly and a “water hammer” effect rattles the pipes, just like reflections in a GHz transmission line, Bill says. I get the picture.

Sometimes the problems lead not just to metaphors but new products. Today’s serdes are much more complex than yesterday’s parallel interconnects because they have so many knobs and settings for effects such as pre-emphasis and equalization, Bill notes. It’s like the cockpit of a 747 compared to the driver’s seat of a Ford pickup.

So Mentor is developing a user interface to make it easy to fly those serdes when they are embedded in an Altera Stratix FPGA. The tool is about 80 percent ready for prime time and could be out in the next few months, Bill says. --rbm

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