News | June 2, 1999

Big PLD House Buys Little Boulder Creek

Programmable logic supplier Altera Corp. (San Jose, CA)--a major player in both FPGA (field programmable gate array) and PLD (programmable logic device) marketplaces--has just acquired privately-held Boulder Creek Engineering (Santa Cruz, CA). Boulder Creek is a small but innovative electronic design automation (EDA) and test-and-measurement company. Its engineers created the SignalTap logic analysis tool and the Pod-A-Lyzer family of Xilinx FPGA-based miniature logic analyzers. These products are often seen at trade shows and conferences.

The acquisition is expected to let Altera enhance the SignalTap tool as an integral logic analysis feature within its own Quartus fourth-generation development system and design software. The goal is to exploit SignalTap to enable faster and more accurate verification of Altera's System-on-a-Programmable-Chip designs.

Both the Quartus software and the SignalTap feature are expected to provide the capabilities necessary to design system-level functionality into Altera's APEX family of programmable logic devices, or PLDs.

Shooting For System-On-A-Chip

APEX PLDs range from 100,000 gate devices to devices with over a million usable gates. What's more, the firm's ICs are fabbed in a six-layer-metal process that permits shrinks for future device densities of up to two million gates. Designers can use these PLDs to put systems-level designs on a single IC.

"The SignalTap logic analyzer is now an exciting feature of the Quartus design environment," says Tim Southgate, vice president of software development at Altera. "It can dramatically shorten verification time while adding easy-to-use debug capabilities."

Technical And Marketing Focus

Southgate says this acquisition also provides Altera with the technical and marketing focus to realize the functionality of the SignalTap logic analyzer. "We're expecting to radically reshape the future of verification methodologies in the programmable logic sector with this thrust," he adds.

"With SignalTap within Quartus, it should be a springboard to cutting-edge verification," agrees Bryan Hoyer, the founder of Boulder Creek Engineering and the engineer who actually developed the Pod-A-Lyzer's circuitry. "We anticipate that our combined expertise will bring about a significant methodology shift for designers using programmable logic. This shift will result in faster, more accurate verification, translating directly to dramatically accelerated time-to-market for end products."

Verification Gobbles Time

Hoyer explains that verification is today the most time-intensive function in the design process. For many design situations, system-level verification is not practical due to long simulation times.

In addition, Hoyer observes that board-level debug has become problematic due to the difficulty of accessing signals at the pins. When using ball grid arrays (BGAs), for example, test signals often can't be routed at all.

The SignalTap logic analyzer sidesteps these issues by letting design teams capture and analyze any signal internal to the programmable logic device on-the-fly--in-system. The tool works in realtime, ensuring that the design will function as specified, under real operating conditions.

A Product Suite

SignalTap now will consist of the Quartus Waveform Editor software, the SignalTap megafunction, and Altera's MasterBlaster communications cable. Through the Quartus Waveform Editor, a designer can select the signal to observe, and define trigger points used to capture the data.

A SignalTap megafunction is then automatically inserted into the design by the Quartus software, just like any other synthesizable intellectual property core. The megafunction has a nominal effect on the size of the design, and can be removed when the analysis is completed.

The SignalTap megafunction, with the functionality of a logic analyzer, captures waveforms in-system and at-speed. Captured data is then stored in the APEX device's embedded system blocks (ESBs) for streaming to the Quartus software through a communications cable. The Quartus software then analyzes the signals and displays the results on its own integrated Waveform Editor.

For more information contact Dan Holden at Altera Corp., 101 Innovation Dr., San Jose, CA 95134. Phone: (408) 544-7183. Email: