Skip to main content

CadenceLIVE 2024 Recap

This is a one-day conference like few others in memory. For starters, three separate meal service hours means that nobody leaves hungry. Of course, they feed our minds too. In between breakfast, lunch and happy hour, there were several tracks focused on various disciplines. I mostly browsed the high speed track and looked at one talk on the automotive track.

Figure 1. Image Credit: Author - The community of Cadence users enjoying lunch and chitchat.

To sum them up, each session was a showcase of a design flow using a specific product. You get the marketing spiel while the technical presentation goes on. Take Cerebrus for example. Marketed as an Intelligent Chip Explorer, it allowed the design team to set priorities and let the system churn out a large number of iterations on its own, all based on the existing circuit. The three tentpoles of any chip are power, performance and area (PPA) and this is the basis for Cerebrus.

The software would compare these many versions to the original chip and surface the ones that further resolved the timing issues or reduced space, whatever was signaled as important to the user. It will use the brute force of artificial intelligence, (Reinforcement Machine Learning according to Cadence) to spin out the candidates, most of which are discarded in favor of the one(s) that best fits the desired model. The underlying bit where it takes considerable time to set up came out during the Q&A at the end. That’s the “LIVE” part of all of this. Don’t miss that part if you go to the one in China on August 27th and the two-day affair in India coming up in September.

Figure 2. Image Credit: Author - Random gentlemen for scale standing in front of a cloud with “cloud” being a stand-in for the Palladium Z3 and Protium X3 Systems. This is where Cerebrus and other Software as a Service (SaaS) options do their thing.

I’d say that most people have heard of the platinum and gold sponsors: Microsoft, Intel, Samsung, Google, Amazon etc. They all had nice little booths with a couple of reps each but lacked the literature you’d normally find at a typical convention. Your mileage may vary on the silver tier; Skillcad, Tower Semiconductor, Silicon Creations and Open Text were all new to me. Those are the ones that drew my interest to see what they were all about. There were about 20 vendors there in all. The thing is that I told stories to the big boys and wanted to hear the value proposition of the unknowns.

Keynote speakers: 

Three brilliant techies who serve as both President and CEO of their respective multinational companies were sharing their plans on how to leverage artificial intelligence. Having both positions is a lot of work.  Presidents do plenty of public relations stuff, cutting ribbons for new factories and dealing with the investor community; that sort of thing. It’s essentially a figurehead type of position that has them out in front of this crowd. Meanwhile, the CEO is the one who makes the tough decisions in the boardroom and beyond. These fellows do both.

First up was Dr. Anirudh Devgan who heads up Cadence. He’s made strategic acquisitions and partnerships that look to propel the company forward into our AI future. The anticipated growth areas are numerous and are expected to mushroom into every corner of the electronics spectrum. Anirudh sees the rise of 3D chip technology using chiplets as one of the keys to supporting artificial intelligence.

Figure 2. Image Credit: Author - Anirudh Devgan, PhD. telling us about the future of electronic design automation.

We know that there are applications for AI now but we don’t know the exact nature of what is to come. Whatever else it becomes, it will be huge. Navigating the unknowns keeps things interesting. We simulate transistors by the billions. How about simulating cancer treatments one molecule at a time?

Jensen Huang is at the helm of Nvidia and is also one of its co-founders as well as President and CEO. It’s a classic Silicon Valley story. Graphic chips, modules, cards that make up the GPU have a high barrier to entry. Still, being number one puts a target on that company's back. They are shoring up their lead using computational fluid dynamics in ways I would not have guessed. Simulation and verification run deep between Nvidia and Cadence. It seems that neither company would be where they are without each other.

Qualcomm - I would have stayed there forever if not for an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Qualcomm, or as I spell it, Qualco/\/\/\/\ was my first global enterprise. I joined via an acquisition and probably would not have made it into Qualcomm on my own without obtaining a 4-year degree. Our “energetic” start-up, Airgo Networks, created the intellectual property that was to become a key part of the 802.11N WiFi specification. Qualcomm wanted that IP as a lever against their rival, Broadcom while lawsuits were pretty common between the two. Anyway, that acquisition changed my career for the better!

“The actual reason for the exercise was to point out the fact that Qualcomm had lots more legos.”

 As an aside, I still remember my first day at Qualcomm back in 2007. Airgo Networks was being on-boarded as a group. At one point, the HR people put several lego blocks on each table and told us to work together around the table and use the blocks to flesh out some kind of invention. There really wasn’t enough legos to work with, not even a baseplate.

The actual reason for the exercise was to point out the fact that Qualcomm had lots more legos. All we had to do was ask. The legos were a metaphor for the people at Qualcomm who could be asked to assist us in our endeavors. We were no longer the tightly knit Airgo. We were now part of the massive engineering team of Qualcomm.

That was a great lesson to take with me when I moved on to Google who has even more ‘legos’. Speaking of which, one of my managers from Google noticed me from behind while riding up the escalator. Zhiping has also moved on from there and is doing his own thing. It was a nice surprise to see him. I have to thank him for driving high standards in our day-to-day efforts. There’s a tendency to get too comfortable without some kind of motivation.

 Back to the subject, you’ve probably heard of MIMO which stands for Multiple Input, Multiple Output. Parallel signals are used to create more bandwidth without wires. Airgo’s Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) turns obstacles like walls into additional channels rather than dead zones. Remember when your smartphone became a hotspot? That was Airgo once Qualcomm took us under their wing. This technology also finds its way into 5G radios.

So I was delighted to see the leaders of Cadence and Qualcomm sharing a conversation on the big stage for the final keynote address. On-Device AI is the buzzword for localizing what has been done in the cloud. Christiano Amon came up from within Qualcomm and has been at the helm for a few years. It’s a progression similar to his Cadence counterpart.

They got on like old pals and revealed a lot of stuff that felt like insider information in terms of their long term goals. Qualcomm wanting to get into laptop chips was a surprise. They spoke of the convergence between phones and laptops, something that rang true after working on Pixel laptops followed by phones of the same name. Further, Qualcomm is working with BMW and other car makers as our transportation becomes more and more like a mobile supercomputer.

A final comment that stuck with me was about power consumption. The collective data centers around the world consume as much power as the entire airline industry. Mobile chips that lean into efficiency are candidates for the data centers. These problems, read opportunities, and many more make this a fascinating time to be in the electronics business. Don’t take investment advice from me but I’m holding stock in all three of these corporations.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

Profile Photo of John Burkhert