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John Lupienski III is a product engineering director at Cadence, where he leads a team that, as the primary technical support interface to the company’s PHY IP R&D group, supports customers in their implementation of high-speed interfaces. John has a BSEE from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an MSEE in solid-state electronics from Arizona State University. He holds three U.S. patents for his work on USB interfaces.
We recently chatted about the impact that mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) design requirements are having on popular high-speed interfaces and their effect on IP.
What are some of today’s key requirements for high-speed interface IP?
The trend we’re seeing is that mobile and the Internet of Things are driving most of the IP requirements, and they’re actually driving process technology. There’s a huge demand for higher performance at lower power consumption and leakage, with better battery life. For the traditional analog design engineer, this is counterintuitive.
Foundries are responding to these demands with new process technologies, like FinFETs and smaller geometries. In PHY IP, we are seeing data rates and chip-to-chip interconnect speeds never seen before in mobile applications. This is driving protocols like PCI Express, originally meant for computer and network environments, into mobile phones and devices. For example, we now have Mobile PCIe. Back when I started working with USB, I never thought it would be used for display (USB Type-C with USB Alternate Modes allow USB cables to connect to displays via the DisplayPort protocol.)
So not only are you seeing process technologies changing, but also protocols are changing. From an IP point of view, it’s definitely a revolution.
How are the protocols changing for mobile designs?
You’re going to see protocols get stripped down to save power. Before, we didn’t worry about power; we cared about receiver performance. Consider PCI Express – a lot of things that work well for a networking or server environment, like DFE, aren’t needed in a phone.
We’re also seeing proprietary protocols. With the emergence of high-speed chip-to-chip links, customers own both ends of the link and have existing IP they want to use. For example, they might already have a controller, a bus, and a bridge for their chip, and the protocol has essentially what they need, so they strip out the rest.
What is happening now is the same as 20 years ago, when the big computer manufacturers owned everything inside and maybe bought a few chips from outside. Now, the box is the chip, manufacturers own the chip, and they might buy a few different IP blocks or IP subsystems from outside vendors.
How does analog design need to advance to keep up with the requirements of smaller processes as well as mixed-signal designs?
Process effects in the latest nodes need to be taken into account in the initial architecture phase of any digital or mixed-signal development. The new smaller FinFET process nodes bring significant advantages in power and performance. However, design structures and partitioning that was possible in older nodes may not be practical. Analog designers need to understand not only the device characteristics of a new process, but also the physical and layout characteristics.The line between digital and analog is also gone. Significant digital calibration, diagnostic, and DFT capabilities are required for advanced analog to achieve performance and yield requirements. IoT applications are changing the requirements for design IP.
What drew you to an engineering career?
Growing up, I actually enjoyed taking things apart and building stuff. In the early days of personal computers, I used to take them apart and put them back together. When the first MS-DOS came out, I tried to understand that. As time went on, I wanted to understand more about how chips work. Plus, many in my family have engineering backgrounds.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with customers to solve their high-speed interface challenges?
With what limited free time I have, I enjoy working on and repairing various items in my home. I also enjoy intercoastal boating.