The road ahead: Exclusive 2004 Altium technology preview

By Bruce Edwards, Executive Director, Altium

Sydney Altium is pleased to present EDANEWS readers with an exclusive
preview of its 2004 range of products. At the core of this new product range
is the concept of LiveDesign. For the first time since the era of
breadboarding designers can experience real-time interaction with their
designs. This concept, together with the decreasing cost of FPGAs, is poised
to deliver advanced FPGA-based system development to mainstream engineers.

As things stand, about 40% of PCB designers indicate they are creating
boards that include FPGAs, and this number looks set to rise steeply in the
next couple of years judging by their planned increase in FPGA design tool
usage*. Programmable logic is not only claiming an increasing amount of PCB
real estate but the role that programmable design is playing within both
product development and the end-products themselves is also changing. While
programmable devices have traditionally been relegated to support functions,
such as providing configurable glue logic for on-board controllers or
processors, the range of applications for these devices is increasing
rapidly. Two powerful factors are now driving change throughout the
electronics industry.

The first factor is the barrier now imposed by ASIC development and tooling
costs. The once rapid proliferation of specialized devices has slowed
dramatically as geometries have shrunk to a level where engineering and
market risks are competing with the benefit of lower unit cost, except for
the largest volume applications. It's been estimated that a wholesale market
worth at least US$20M is now required for designs to be implemented on
90nm/300mm wafer silicon. Tooling spins for this technology run from a low
of about US$750K up to US$2M. It's no wonder then that only about 20% of
existing ASIC designs would qualify to move onto this platform.

Against this background, the same geometries that are creating prohibitive
ASIC development costs are providing a breakthrough in FPGA
price/performance. An emerging volume market for programmable devices is
accelerating the development and delivery of larger capacity FPGAs at
dramatically lower prices. FPGAs are now available at prices that make them
a viable platform for mainstream market products. And the increasing
capacity of these new-generation, low-cost FPGAs make them an advantaged
platform for developing and deploying processor-based, systems-level

As product designers, we all still operate under the same constraints as in
the past. We're under pressure to make our products smaller, smarter, faster
and better able to communicate. Improved FPGAs provide an obvious
alternative systems- development platform without the astronomical NRE and
tooling costs imposed by ASICs. The programmability (and potential
reconfigurability) of these devices could provide other benefits, both
during the design process and even after delivery.

This all sounds great in theory but unless you're part of a large,
resource-rich R&D environment, how do you assemble the tools and expertise
required to exploit this potential 'systems-level' design capability?

At Altium we have been asking ourselves this same question over the past
several years. We've watched industry trends and anticipated what we felt
was the ultimate convergence of hardware and software design. We've invested
mightily in embedded software and FPGA design technologies we felt would be
vital to supporting this convergence. And we've been developing a new
approach to making this highly complex set of hardware and software design
processes both usable and affordable for our mainstream customers. What has
emerged from this process is a new paradigm for hardware/software systems
implementation that we call "LiveDesign".

LiveDesign is the embodiment of what we believe mainstream engineers will
need in next-gen tools in order to be able to develop their future products.
In the simplest terms, LiveDesign-enabled tools support real-time
communication and interaction between the designer and the design. By
LiveDesign system we mean a hands-on hardware and software environment
directly accessible from their desktop for on-the-fly implementation of a
real, physical circuit. Once implemented, this circuit can be probed,
analyzed and debugged just like an actual prototype. And because the
implementation is performed on an FPGA, the designer can update the design
in an instant and many times over without penalty. This working hardware
implementation of the physical design also provides a development platform
for debugging embedded system software. Unlike conventional electronics
design flows where hardware must be frozen early and prototypes manufactured
to provide the platform for software development, LiveDesign enables the
commitment to final hardware to be delayed until later in the design cycle.
We believe this will have a profound impact on the way future products are
designed, with benefits to the speed, design flow, quality and final product
cost for the design phase.


Delivering the benefits of LiveDesign-enabled products

LiveDesign itself isn't a product, but rather a set of capabilities that
will be delivered across Altium's entire range of design solutions, and is
enabled by our unique DXP technology integration platform. Commencing in the
first quarter of 2004, we will roll out a new generation of
LiveDesign-enabled tools to customers. Following is a brief overview of the
new product line-up.

* 2003 EETimes Electronic Design Automation Branding Study.


NEXAR 2004

Nexar is the first true Personal ASIC Development System - and a radical
departure from previous industry attempts to provide systems-level design
capabilities for FPGAs. Nexar will allow you to quickly develop, program and
debug a complete FPGA-hosted, target-independent, processor-based system
without having to write a single line of VHDL or Verilog.

Nexar is delivered with a library of industry-standard processors,
controllers and peripheral IP cores. These pre-synthesized IP-based
components can be placed directly into schematics and wired together to
create your design. Because the components are pre-synthesized, downloading
your design to the FPGA-powered development board - the NanoBoard - is quick
and reliable, freeing you to explore more design options in less time.

An important part of our philosophy is multi-vendor support. Nexar's
royalty-free component libraries support an extensive range of devices
including FPGA-based processor cores, communications and interface devices,
generic logic components, 'virtual instruments' and more. This allows
portability of the design between devices from different vendors and
different device families. And although Nexar designs are developed and
debugged on the reprogrammable FPGA NanoBoard, the completed design itself
can be ultimately targeted for implementation on other programmable devices,
board-level discrete components or even as factory ASIC devices.

Another key feature of the Nexar environment is its high level of
integration with board-level design. Nexar provides special tools that
manage optimization and routing of FPGA pins to enhance layout flexibility
on the PCB.

The initial release of Nexar 2004 will include both the Xilinx Spartan IIE
and the Altera Cyclone EP1C12 devices supplied on plugin daughterboards.

The anticipated list price of Nexar is US$7,995 and will be available for
purchase in the first quarter of the 2004 calendar year.

"FPGA technology has progressed to the point where these devices represent a
viable platform for embedded system design accessible to the mainstream
engineering community" Nick Martin

Nexar key highlights:

Rapid system-on-FPGA development environment that includes integrated
hardware and embedded software development (true co-design) functionality;

FPGA-loaded NanoBoard hardware that provides real time interaction with the
design during hardware and software debugging. For the design of complex
systems, multiple NanoBoards can also be 'daisy-chained' together to support
multiple FPGA devices spread across several printed circuit boards;

Graphical design interface that supports both large blocks of combinatorial
logic or components, and the interconnection of these component blocks to
form a complete embedded system inside an FPGA;

Pre-synthesized component libraries including standard architecture
processors, controllers and peripherals. These IP cores are provided as part
of the standard Nexar package and can be used on a royalty-free basis in
your designs;

VHDL-based design support for creating pre-synthesized peripheral

Embedded compilers and debuggers for pre-synthesized IP cores;

Virtual Instruments, including signal analyzers and frequency
generators/counters, that can be wired into the design schematic and
operated live with NanoBoard hardware via the system's JTAG interface for
both hardware and software device chains.

Design Explorer 2004

Design Explorer 2004 represents the addition of a dedicated new product
licensing option that provides engineering teams with a universal front-end
design platform featuring hierarchical schematic capture, mixed-mode
simulation and pre-layout signal integrity capabilities.

Beyond today's mere 'capture' products, Design Explorer is a richly featured
entry point into Altium's LiveDesign-enabled environment. Design Explorer
provides a low-cost option for team members who are not completing
device-level or board level implementations of projects. Teams will benefit
from the seamless integration that connects Design Explorer and other Altium
LiveDesign-enabled tools. Furthermore a Design Explorer license will be
readily and easily upgradeable to other Altium products.

Anticipated list price of Design Explorer 2004 in the US will be $1,995*.
Current CircuitMaker users will be offered upgrade paths to Design Explorer.
Design Explorer 2004 is expected to ship during the first calendar quarter
of 2004.

Caption: Design Explorer provides the ultimate front end to board-level
design with hierarchical schematic capture, full SPICE3f5/Xspice simulation
capabilities, and comprehensive file import features for bringing in legacy

Protel 2004

Protel 2004 will be fully LiveDesign-enabled and completely integrated with
Nexar. Protel remains as the EDA industry's first and only single
application that provides all the capabilities needed to take any board
design project from concept to completion. Protel 2004 includes the full
host of design capabilities that span design capture to board-level
implementation, further strengthened by including, as standard, new
integrated capabilities for FPGA pin optimization. Protel 2004 works
seamlessly with Nexar to provide a smooth path from FPGA design to PCB
implementation with Protel PCB designs linked directly to Nexar FPGA
projects. Protel 2004 builds on its predecessors' approach to board design
by giving engineers unprecedented freedom to move between the different
phases of design, working with familiar design flows. This new release will
incorporate the previously announced Service Pack 3 fixes and significant
Situs autorouter improvements. 

The anticipated list price for a single-user Protel 2004 new license remains
at $7,995* in the US. It is planned for shipment in Q1, 2004. 

Current Protel DXP users will receive this new version automatically and an
offer to purchase a NanoBoard for an additional fee. Upgrade paths to Nexar
will be provided with pricing to be announced closer to the time of release.

nVisage 2004

An updated, LiveDesign-enabled nVisage 2004 release will provide a
dramatically strengthened environment for dedicated FPGA design. The current
nVisage capabilities, including multi-vendor support, VHDL simulation and
synthesis capabilities are maintained and the new LiveDesign-enabled
capabilities will support the use of Virtual Instruments and FPGA-based
cores. All new licenses for nVisage 2004 will be delivered with a NanoBoard
for rapid, implementation, testing and debugging of your FPGA design.
nVisage will also include non-processor pre-synthesized components and
virtual instruments to support NanoBoard hardware debug. This
LiveDesignenabled version of nVisage will be readily upgraded to a full
Nexar license, adding support for IP-core based processors, controllers and
the compilers/debuggers required for embedded software implementation. 

Anticipated nVisage 2004 new license list price moves to $4,995* in the US
and it will be upgradeable to the full Nexar license. nVisage 2004 is also
expected to ship during the first quarter of the 2004 calendar year. Current
holders of a single-user license of nVisage DXP will receive the 2004
software update automatically and will be offered the option to add a
reconfigurable NanoBoard - pricing to be announced nearer to the time of

P-CAD 2004

Next year, P-CAD 2004 will also be delivered on Altium's LiveDesign-enabled
technology platform giving users access, for the first time, to our entire
range of integrated design technologies. This will allow P-CAD users to
benefit from Altium tool integration within the specialized world of PCB
design and beyond. 

P-CAD users will experience the power of a significantly upgraded front-end
design capture engine tightly integrated with their traditional and familiar
P-CAD PCB interface. Once wired into the LiveDesign-enabled environment,
P-CAD customers will be able to extend their tools across the entire Altium
landscape by easily adding FPGA and system-level design capabilities. 

Anticipated list price of P-CAD in the US remains at $9,995*. Delivery of
P-CAD 2004 is expected by mid-2004.


Did you know that approximately 40% of embedded software developers indicate
they're involved in systems-level hardware design?* What if it were possible
to debug your embedded programs on the intended hardware platform as it is
being developed? What if you could easily retarget and debug your embedded
code on a reconfigurable development platform that supports soft cores? And
say you could change the hardware the software runs on as easily as you
update the software code itself? 

All this (and more) will soon be possible as our well-established TASKING
tools are progressively released on Altium's LiveDesignenabled platform over
the coming months. Altium will continue to provide embedded developers with
targeted compiler/debugger 'tool chains' that will support embedded
development for FPGAs on our Nexar system-on- FPGA development product.
Embedded developers will also benefit from Altium's highly productive design
capture/edit environment by gaining close integration with other system
design flows. A succession of TASKING tool-set releases will commence with
new versions for 8051 variants, with other processor targets to follow. This
will also provide a logical access point to the rest of the
LiveDesign-enabled environment for Altium's embedded development customers
and benefits for engineering project teams. 

Anticipated list prices for TASKING embedded software development toolsets
remain in the current range from $1,995* to $5,995* in the US depending upon
the target devices supported. Further information on the release schedule
will be provided in Q1, 2004. 

* VDC Embedded Software Market Intelligence 2002/2003

CAMtastic 2004

CAMtastic will be re-released on Altium's LiveDesign-enabled platform and
also included 'as standard' with Protel 2004 and P-CAD 2004 PCB design
solutions. The free web pack Viewer version with OBD++ support will remain
available to allow customers to distribute their layout and other
fabrication files. 

Anticipated list price for a stand-alone CAMtastic 2004 single-user license
in the US is $2,995* and delivery is scheduled for Q1, 2004.


Learn more about being LiveDesign-enabled

Finally, it's impossible to capture more than a superficial impression of
the LiveDesign-enabled concept in print. If you'd like to see our new
technology and Nexar in action, we've prepared a short introductory
multi-media presentation, "Designing Live with Nexar" that can be viewed at
the Altium website. Just point your browser to:

As Nexar and the other LiveDesign-enabled Altium products are released, we
will continue to provide further information on the Altium website so be
sure to visit regularly for up-dates.

If you have an interest in beta programs for Altium's 2004 releases, go to for more information. Or, to contact your nearest Altium
sales and support office, visit

Clearly, we've mapped out an exciting and ambitious schedule of technology
deliveries for the upcoming year. As you've seen, every current Altium
product will soon be released with our LiveDesign-enabling capabilities,
providing a true system-level approach to design regardless of your entry
point into the Altium environment. We believe that whether you're a board
designer, system engineer, FPGA designer or embedded software developer,
being LiveDesign-enabled will provide compelling benefits for you, your
organization and your customers.

* All prices quoted in US Dollars - contact your local Altium Sales and
Support Center or Reseller for local pricing. Prices subject to VAT and
other applicable local taxes. 


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