Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor
At the beginning of May, in time for CDNLive, Cadence announced major upgrades for its Allegro and Orcad products. The Printed Circuit Board (PCB) sector of our industry gets the second cousin treatment in an industry so focused on silicon products. Yet PCB play a very important role in system design, one that is almost never recognized by the ESL tools. I cannot name an ESL tool that allows architects to evaluate the topology of a system on a PCB. PCB designers are always left with the task of accommodating the electronic system within the mechanical confines of the product. Naturally this brings about thermal and electrical issues that are not at all considered by the IC designers.
The new versions introduced by Cadence do not attempt to address this problem either, although they have improved the interoperability between Allegro and Sigrity to shorten PCB design and verification time. Other new capabilities in the Allegro product include:
Rigid-Flex design enhancements, inter-layer checks for both flex and rigid flex, a new native 3D engine, and finally a Programmable Interface with the Sigrity tool.
By looking at the capabilities offered by similar products from Mentor and Zuken, it turns out that Allegro does not offer any capability that is not already present in Mentor ‘s Xploration or Zuken’s CR8000 products. All three products address the problem of PCB design and verification in different manner, so that a choice among them is a matter of methods more than of capability.
What is interesting within the PCB market is that all three leading vendors have chosen a dual approach. Cadence with Allegro and OrCAD, Mentor with Xpedition and PADS, and Zuken with the CR family and CADSTAR. There seems to be a real division among PCB designers that supports such strategy. OrCAD, PADS, and CADSTAR aim to support the individual designer who works on a less challenging PCB design and whose verification requirements are less demanding. Allegro, Xpedition, and CR8000 (or CR7000 for that matter) support team design and a verification cycle that deals with power distribution, IR- Drop, noise, and thermal issues among others.
While both Mentor and Zuken address the PCB market by addressing PCB design and verification problems in their own importance, Cadence serves this market as a function of what an IC designer needs from the PCB. The lack of consideration by Cadence for the role that a PCB plays is system design is therefore more intriguing. It would seem to me that Cadence would be the one concerned with co-design and co-verification of IC and PCB, but this is not the case at all. In all three cases the IC, or ICs are taken as given, there is no possibility to tradeoff IC characteristics and a PCB characteristics. True enough, in most cases the IC is what it is, it comes from a third party, and thus the PCB designer must adapt to a set of characteristics that are unchangeable. But that is not always the case. Some ICs come as a family with different electrical specification, and evaluating various flavors of a CPU or MCU should be an easy thing to do.
Unfortunately, PCB designers are mostly ignored by DAC. Zuken is not even on the exhibitors list this year, so attendees will not get the opportunity to compare products, beside may be Mentor’s and Cadence’s. I wrote “may be” because both booths will certainly underscore IC design and there will be a high level of discourse about IoT. But you need to ask, if you want to find someone on the booth that can demo a PCB product.