In 1988, Ronald Reagan was wrapping up his second presidential term in Washington. Perestroika came to the Soviet Union. NASA reported accelerated breakdown of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons. Steve Jobs showed off his first NeXT Computer in San Francisco. The term "brick" was used not just for building materials but for mobile phones, those novelty devices that people like doctors, lawyers, and drug dealers carried.

A Toshiba T1200H personal computer (10MHz Intel 80c86 CPU, 1MB RAM, and a 20MB drive) cost $4098 ($7182 adjusted for inflation). Twenty years later, in 2008, a Lenovo ThinkPad cost $1700 and put under your fingertips 2GHz processing power, 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive (as well as features that didn't even exist in the 1980s). And what Toshiba packed into its T1200H in '88 you now hold in your hand in your smartphone...and then some.

In 1988, the cost per megabyte was $58 in adjusted dollars; today it's $0.000363. In 1988, ASICs were electronics design's big daddy, and FPGAs had on training wheels.

EDA was breathing the oxygen of emancipation from vertically integrated electronics companies and thriving in its own little Wild West. And a new company was born.

June 1, 1988 was the official launch date of Cadence Design Systems, Inc., a merger of ECAD (founded by Glen Antle and Paul Huang in 1982) and SDA Systems, which Jim Solomon founded in 1983.

The rest is history--history at Cadence, history within the larger EDA sector--and we'll highlight some of that history with posts, videos, and events in the next 12 months around the world. This week, to kick it off, we'll hoist a 25th anniversary banner on one of the headquarters buildings on Montague Expressway in San Jose, so if you're driving through the valley this year, give a wave.

Astonishing Change

Twenty-five years is a long time in human terms, an eternity in electronics. And while we'll look back in the coming months with interviews with EDA industry titans and design gurus, it's intriguing to think what our world will look like in 2038, a quarter-century from now.

In most ways, it's impossible to predict. Would you have said in 1988 that you'd some day slip far more computing power into your pocket than sat on your desk? I would never have thought then that in 2012 I'd be driving across the California desert at 80 miles an hour one morning watching--on my cell phone--a crazy Austrian in a space suit leap from the edge of space and free fall to earth. Watching. In a car. In the desert. On my cell phone. Live.

It's really impossible to predict what the electronics world will look like in 2038 because we couldn't predict today back then.

The Road Ahead

That said, we do a very good job of predicting technology advancements in 5-10-year increments, argues EDA guru Gary Smith of Gary Smith EDA. Take the ITRS roadmap to bed tonight and you'll see a lot of the future going out to 2027. The vast majority of that will come true, within a few years of prediction.

But what's the world going to look like?


Considering that what our industry looks and feels like today is not fundamentally different than it was in '88, it'll look familiar in 2038. Back then, the industry had thrown off the vertically integrated model by the end of the 1980s, and we're still operating in that specialization mode. 

But we are entering a fascinating new era that will be the foundation for technological innovation going forward. That is the disruption of the semiconductor space, where companies are embarking on one of two paths. On one path, a traditional semi company focuses on components (in many cases, acquiring digital or analog businesses to broaden its product lines). The other path finds companies focusing on systems. (Frank Schirrmeister wrote about this this week, and I added a perspective as well).

Smith puts a finer point on the trend:

"What you're seeing in the semi business--and this didn't become clear until a few years ago--ARM has become the new prototype for an ‘integrated circuit company.' We might not be using silicon in the future; we build ones and zeros and it goes into something. In ARM's case it doesn't go into silicon until somebody else does something with it. That's the pure form of the new concept."

As part of this transformation, the central processing unit, for example, may actually fade in importance with the rise of special-purpose processors, Smith believes.

"When we end up there will be six to eight processing units optimized for certain sets of algorithms. We have to specialize in different algorithmic patterns to optimize the processing so we can minimize the power problem. A CPU by definition is not optimal."

Whither EDA?

For the EDA industry, the next 10 years will reveal a transformation--already underway--from a tools business to a solutions business as the vendors gobble up IP startups to enable those evolving semiconductor companies moving up the system chain to fill up their billion-gate designs productively and efficiently.

The better near-term news, according to Smith, is the EDA industry has been acquiring semiconductor R&D know-how--for example emulation technology or DFM--as the semiconductor companies move up the chain. That, he insists, will push industry average margins north very soon.

He believes that will happen because of Ross Perot. Perot's insight, according to Smith, was to outsource the data center's software. Then those software providers sold it back to him at 40 percent margins, which became the talisman for Wall Street. When EDA spun out of the semiconductor industry, the semiconductor industry kept the ‘R' in the R&D, so the EDA margins were 25 percent, Smith said. Now that the ‘R' is coming back in, those margins should increase.

So what does 2038 look like? The best we can do at this point is consider what 2028 looks like, given that's how far the ITRS roadmap wanders.

Fifteen years from now, we'll be making SoCs (or whatever we'll call them) with 65 billion transistors at the high end. A hardware design engineer will make $499,000, while a software engineer will pull in $265,000. (By contrast the ITRS notes that a good hardware engineer made $228,000 last year, while his software brothers and sisters made $182,000.)

In 2000, it took 18 engineers to design 1 million gates; in 2028 it will be 0.01. In 2000, the total cost to produce that 35 million-gate design was $22.2 million; in 2028 it will cost $53.3 million to produce a device with 16 billion transistors.

In 1988, there was no Internet as we know it, no Google, no Facebook, no iTunes or Android. Cars had airbags but no side radar, no autonomy. The only drones in the sky were space rockets.

So here's to 25 years. Let's raise a glass and then get back to work. There's lots to do.


Brian Fuller