Max's Chips and Dips: Cool News from Agilent EEsof

The 2008 release of Agilent EEsof''s Advanced Design System (ADS) software will make even grizzled engineers squeal like schoolgirls!
I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the name Agilent, I tend to think of them in terms of their state-of-the-art Test and Measurement products such as Oscilloscopes, Analyzers, Meters, and so forth.

Sad to relate, I keep on forgetting about their EEsof incarnation (where "EEsof" stands for "Electrical Engineering Software"). This is very remiss of me, because Agilent EEsof is around #5 in the overall ranking of EDA companies.

I think the problem is that I am a digital logic designer by trade, but Agilent EEsof EDA focuses on developing analog, mixed-signal, and RF tools for high-frequency system, circuit, and modeling applications such as RF and microwave amplifier, mixer, and filter designs for the commercial wireless, aerospace, and defense markets (try saying that ten times quickly). Since I tend to regard analog and RF design as "black magic", I end up wandering through life oblivious to many of the cool things that are happening in this domain . . . until now.

Recently, I spent a happy few hours chatting with How-Siang Yap from Agilent EEsof EDA. We started by reminiscing about the history of high-frequency design tools, and How-Siang was kind enough to point me at some interesting items on the Microwaves101.com website (check out This Page and This Page, for example).

How-Siang also pointed me toward the website of Les Besser, whom he describes as: "The father of microwave CAE". It seems that the first high-frequency simulation tool was a program written by Les for doing complex impedance matching when he worked at Hewlett Packard as a microwave hardware engineer in the late 70's.

Apparently, his boss wasn't too happy with him writing software instead of building hardware, so Les left to join Fairchild to continue the work on Speedy. Meanwhile, the work Les started at HP later evolved into the MDS (Microwave Design System) – the CAE tool used in the design of HP's instrumentation and components.

In 1993, HP acquired EEsof, which augmented the circuit simulation capabilities of MDS with system simulation capabilities. Over time, MDS evolved to become HP's flagship Advanced Design System (ADS) software suite. Later, in 2000, Agilent Technologies (including Agilent EEsof EDA) was spun out of HP to become a fully independent company.

But why am I waffling on about all of this here? Well, as part of our discussions, I was introduced to the Advanced Design System 2008 software release, and it's a "hum-dinger" let me tell you. It seems that not-so-long-ago, the General Manager of Agilent EEsof EDA division – Jim McGillivary – publicly went on the record as saying:
I am challenging our organization to double customer productivity in 2008 for a comprehensive set of typical design tasks.
What did Jim mean by "doubling productivity"? Well, basically it means that anything the user used to do (design capture, simulation, analysis, etc.) should now take only half the time. There are so many aspects to this (such as making the software take full advantage of multi-core and distributed processors) that it makes one's head spin.

However, the part that really grabbed my attention was the fact that they've completely revamped the ADS graphical user interface (GUI). The reason I'm so interested in this area is that I spend so much of my time fighting with interfaces for other tools that appear to have been created by someone from another planet (or at least, someone who has never actually used the tool themselves). First, all of the various design capture, visualization, simulation, and analysis engines are fully integrated as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1. All of the engines in ADS are tightly integrated.

Of particular interest to me is the new three-dimensional (3D) representation shown in the upper-right-hand corner of Figure 1. This 3D view is generated on-the-fly in real-time. More importantly, you control it using the same highly-intuitive usage model as for Google Earth, which means that you can easily "fly around" the design, zoom in and out, and rotate it to view things from any angle.

In fact, the folks at EEsof have extended and augmented the capabilities of the Google Earth interface. As one example, you can "stretch" a design in the vertical axis as illustrated in Figure 2. The upper image in Figure 2 shows one view of a portion of a design with a one-for-one aspect ration in the X, Y, and Z planes. By comparison, the lower image in Figure 2 shows the same design from a different perspective, but in this case the design has been stretched in the vertical axis, which makes it much easier to see what's going on inside the various layers.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Designs can be "stretched" in the vertical dimension as an aid to seeing what's going on inside the various planes.

But wait, there's more, because the ADS 3D visualization engine also supports the ability to define and manipulate "cut-planes" as illustrated in Figure 3. Quite apart from the fact that this is incredibly useful, I love playing with this sort of thing just for the pleasure of seeing how "smoothly" it performs (can you imaging how much graphics computing horsepower this sort of thing requires? This simply would not have been possible on anything less than a supercomputer a few short years ago – now ADS supports it on a typical engineering workstation).

Figure 3
Figure 3. The 3D interface supports the concept of cut-planes.

Good grief – I could waffle on for hours. As I noted earlier, the ADS GUI has been completely revamped. Even relatively simple tasks like Zoom and Pan are now so user-friendly that you are tempted to do them just for the fun of it. But I must away, because I have so many things to do and so little time to do them all in. So, if you are interested in learning more, I suggest you contact the guys and gals at Agilent EEsof EDA without delay (I'm a poet, and I never knew-it). Until next time, have a good one!
Clive (Max) Maxfield is author of Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics) and The Design Warrior's Guide to FPGAs (Devices, Tools, and Flows), Max is also the co-author of How Computers Do Math, featuring the pedagogical and phantasmagorical virtual DIY Calculator (www.DIYCalculator.com).

In addition to being a hero, trendsetter, and leader of fashion, Max is widely regarded as being an expert in all aspects of computing and electronics (at least by his mother). Max was once referred to as "an industry notable" and a "semiconductor design expert" by someone famous who wasn't prompted, coerced, or remunerated in any way.

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