Electronic Design

Web-Based Design Tools Bear Fruit For Engineers

It's Friday morning. You've just been asked to come up with a prototype of an almost, but not quite standard, Utopia multiplexer by Tuesday afternoon. You frantically call around to distributors, but no one can deliver the configuration you're looking for in time. In frustration, you turn to that vast wasteland known as the Internet for help. Up turns a Web site that is the answer to your prayers.

After a few clicks on the mouse, you've specified exactly the Utopia multiplexer you needed. Between site registration, device configuration, and ordering of prototype quantities, the entire process takes all of 15 minutes. And on Tuesday morning, verified prototypes arrive.

The World Wide Web has yet to fundamentally alter all our lives as we might have expected it would a year or two ago. But it can indeed be an invaluable resource to designers in a hurry. The example of a quick-prototype Web site for Utopia multiplexers and bridges exists today. The site, www.quicklogic.com/webesp, enables users to create customizable standard products, leveraging the immediacy of the Web in a way that is truly useful. A recent demo showed that the site works exactly as advertised.

QuickLogic's WebESP system is one example of such a site that brings the Web to bear on the design process. The traditional design flow for custom devices is a well-known cycle that starts with coding in a hardware description language coupled with incorporation of intellectual property from inside or outside your design shop. There's synthesis, simulation, place and route, and achieving of timing closure to go through. Then there's the whole back-end process of tapeout, mask creation, fabrication, and finally, verification of silicon. It's a lengthy, expensive, and inherently risky way to arrive at a custom or even sometimes a semicustom device. Miss and you miss very, very big. QuickLogic's approach, which takes advantage of its own programmable logic technologies, is a way to sidestep much of the cost, risk, and most important, time of the traditional cycle.

Initially, the site will focus on standards-based, communications-oriented devices, starting with four levels of Utopia functions and branching out later into POS-PHY L3, CSIX, PCI, and LVDS SERDES functions. Designers often need devices with which to bridge between various communication standards. Today, this is typically accomplished with either FPGAs or ASICs. An approach such as the one developed by QuickLogic promises to cut into the development cycle considerably.

Other sites take a similar approach, but to board-level products. One is www.sweetcircuits.com, a site that offers everything from preconfigured circuit board assemblies that can be modified using the site's online tools to full-custom designs configured on-the-fly. The newest component of the site, Virtual System Designer (VSD), allows users to start with a board or chassis, and then add the processor, memory, peripherals, storage, I/O, software, and BIOS.

Increasingly, designers are seeing the Web made available to them as a varied medium for not only online design, but for communication between team members and between design teams and suppliers. Design data management tools from vendors such as Synchronicity come to mind as examples of applications that couldn't exist in the form they do without the Web as the communication medium. We'll continue to watch the online design trend from here and keep you informed. If you've used the Web lately for design work, please let me know how it went.

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