When U.K.-based Radstone Technology's design team got started on its latest project, it was already behind schedule. The project, one in a series of avionics-related single-board computers for a critical customer, was to be a 3U high full motherboard with some 11,000 vias and a high percentage of high-speed nets including many differential pairs.
"The board was complex enough that we would have to use sequential-via technology," says CAD system manager Ian McCormick. "The board had 16 layers. Not only did it use sequential vias, but there were several buried via pairs inside the center stack as well."
Already a user of Mentor's board-layout tools, McCormick decided to take a chance on a beta version of Mentor's Xtreme PCB. By doing so, McCormick hoped to regain some lost time by teaming his two principal CAD layout engineers, Jim Rose and Rob Savage (see the figure). Radstone had already been using Mentor's Team PCB product, the precursor to Xtreme PCB, and felt the risk in trying Xtreme PCB on this critical project was minimal. On the contrary, they had a lot to gain if the tool performed as advertised.
The upshot: A project that McCormick estimated would have taken either of the two designers about three months working solo was completed in about six weeks. The team was able to get the project back on schedule and avoid disappointing Radstone's customer with a late product delivery.
Rose and Savage found working in the Xtreme PCB environment to be quite user-friendly. "Running in the Xtreme PCB environment is transparent to users," says McCormick. "You can't tell the difference from a normal Expedition design session, except that you can see the other person working along with you."
Installing the software was straightforward, and there's no configuration required. "Any experienced Expedition user would be able to figure it out with no instruction whatsoever," says McCormick. His workstation served as the Xtreme server, with Expedition running locally on Rose's and Savage's workstations.
For the project at hand, Savage served as the lead designer, with Rose joining as the secondary designer. Savage started about a week before Rose as the latter was finishing up another project. Once Rose joined in, the pair tag-teamed grouping circuit functions into blocks and then placing those blocks on the board. They were pleased to find themselves with a large amount of placement completed at the end of their first day working together.
From McCormick's perspective as CAD system manager, the Xtreme PCB environment has broad implications in terms of his department's workflow and design-resource management.
"With Rob serving as the lead designer, Jim was able to drop in and out of the project to work on other smaller jobs that wouldn't have been able to get done otherwise," says McCormick. He notes that the Xtreme PCB environment opens up a number of scenarios that lend themselves to greater overall design throughput for his group.
The Radstone team described the beta version of Xtreme PCB as being quite stable and relatively bug-free. Some of the features in Expedition haven't yet been ported to Xtreme PCB, but they are likely in the pipeline, according to Savage.
"Crossprobing (between schematic and layout) and anything that requires access to the central database, such as gate and pin swaps, need to be done in standalone basis," says Savage. "But we fed that back to Mentor, and they're working on it."