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CAD Tech News (#130)

16 Jul, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff


Herrera on Hardware: Chiplet Architectures Emerge as One Arrow in Industry Quiver of Technologies Extending Compute Performance

As the trend described by Moore's Law approaches its inevitable end, CAD users and other compute-hungry professionals need the industry to find ways to deliver generation-to-generation improvements in performance.

By Alex Herrera

In the literal sense, the end of Moore's Law — long and accurately defining the incessant downscaling in silicon-integrated transistor area and cost — is imminent. But focusing energy to push only on the literal meaning of Moore's Law, rather than its spirit, is a fool's errand. Because even after its end, technology will continue to advance both performance and price-performance, the true end goals of what Moore's Law delivered for decades.

Now on the surface, CAD professionals shouldn't necessarily care about whether Moore's Law continues or not. But they will care a lot if the industry does not continue to find ways to deliver the generation-to-generation improvements in performance and price-performance that Moore's Law so elegantly dictated over the past five decades. And really, given their stature as some of the most demanding computing professionals around, they will ultimately be impacted as much as any, should the industry fail to keep up that pace.

The good news is that Moore's Law or not, the innovative powers of vendors are showing promise to keep progress moving forward, both in the short term and the long. One key component in the short term (at least) is chiplet technology, an approach that leverages the best of silicon at any generation to create higher-performing and better-balanced systems for the most compute-hungry users.

Moore's Law Was Never the True End

The semantic details are often debated, but Moore's Law essentially states that transistor counts (per area and cost) double around every two years. It began as an observation based on the early progression of silicon fabrication technology and extended to the current CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor), the technology responsible for virtually all digital ICs (integrated circuits) made for the past 25 years or more. What the law implies — and is often equated with — is a doubling of performance that often comes from the doubling of transistors. The problem, one the industry has seen coming for some time, is that continuing to shrink dimensions at that pace will eventually hit a limit — if not by exacerbating problems like current leakage and thermal dissipation, then eventually by bumping up against quantum effects and atomic dimensions. Opinions vary on how many economically viable denser process nodes are left (each of which can accommodate many more transistors in the same silicon area), and how long it will take to leverage them. But regardless, vendors accept the coming end to Moore's Law, at least measured in the context of conventional, ubiquitous CMOS technology.

However, too often we dwell on what Moore's Law is or isn't — the specific semantics and if it's alive or dead — rather than the far more important aspect: what it has enabled. Its ability to double performance at the same cost as the previous generation, or to cut cost in half for the same performance — a property no other industry can match — has directly or indirectly given rise to virtually every major technological achievement of the past half-century. Most certainly, it has enabled modern CAD, for without the advances in performance and performance-per-dollar, designers, engineers, and architects wouldn't have their mission-critical computing tools. Ultimately, the end goal should never be about keeping Moore's Law alive, but about finding ways to deliver in the future what Moore's Law delivered in the past. Given that, the industry is re-positioning itself to establish new paths forward to keep a Moore's Law-ish progression in place — that is, to continue to grow geometrically the value of what the next generation of products and technology can offer.

To do so, vendors are opening up new fronts of attack, open to just about anything (or at least they should be), from relatively conventional evolutionary steps to downright radical departures. Ideas along the evolutionary lines are looking to advance based on our current ecosystem of technologies, materials, and development tools, both hardware and software. What "radical" implies is just about anything else, such as quantum computing that breaks the binary limits, by its nature opening up geometric growth potential via qubit (quantum bit) processing. Though few are likely to bet the farm on it quite yet, quantum computing holds enough promise to justify substantial investment from industry and academia alike. It's not clear which paths are the most viable, or if some are much more than theory. Despite its promise, quantum computing for example, has some very difficult challenges to overcome — most notably its thermal sensitivity, which currently requires operation at temperatures just a tad north of absolute zero. And regardless of whether quantum computing will eventually evolve into a primary axis to extend computation scaling long term, it's most certainly not an answer for the short term.

No, in the valley between the peak of CMOS scaling and the next technology peak beyond, the industry needs a compelling answer to bridge forward, and that answer needs to be much more evolutionary and conventional, one compatible with current CMOS-driven design and development infrastructure. The industry is exploring multiple conventional paths, and the answer is shaping up to be not just one tool, but a box full that — in aggregate — can help digital systems like CAD workstations take meaningful steps forward in performance and price-performance, generation to generation. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

Pandemic Transforms the CAD Industry in 2020 and Beyond

The 2020 CAD Report from Jon Peddie Research was completed at the end of 2019, before the pandemic shook North America. How has the landscape been affected in the six months since?

By Kathleen Maher

During the first half of 2020, it became obvious to people in every business that expectations for the near future would have to be seriously adjusted. Pandemics will do that.

The 2020 CAD Report from Jon Peddie Research was completed at the end of 2019. At that time — which seems so long ago — we were cautious about the prospects for 2020 and beyond. We would love to claim that we had seen the pandemic coming, but back then, we thought of viral epidemics as a seasonal challenge centered primarily in Asia.

Market share in CAD has remained relatively stable over the past ten years, but that's a deceptive measure because each company is carving out specific areas of expertise so each can run the race in its own lane. There has been enormous change over the past decade that is serving these companies well in recession.
Market share in CAD has remained relatively stable over the past ten years, but that's a deceptive measure because each company is carving out specific areas of expertise so each can run the race in its own lane. There has been enormous change over the past decade that is serving these companies well in recession.

Instead, we were more concerned that desperately needed infrastructure projects had been stalled for years in the US, and worldwide global manufacturing had taken a downturn due to trade issues and fracturing trade alliances. In addition, the threat from climate change loomed large over every human activity.

CAD Industry Undergoes Major Changes, with AEC at the Forefront

The AEC industry was the success story of 2018–2019 thanks to the growing acceptance of digital technologies, especially building information modeling (BIM) and also modularization and on-site fabrication. Specifically, the construction industry re-emerged as a huge opportunity as decades of hidebound traditional practices began to modernize and reveal long pent-up demands.

The CAD industry as a whole has restructured for resiliency. It has transitioned to subscription, which offers a buffer for short-term shocks, and there is plenty of room for expansion in the steady adoption of digital twin approaches that connect designs, data, analysis, and documentation to the real-world objects they represent, including autonomous vehicles, smart cities, airplanes, power plants, industrial machines, and mobile phones.

So far, the plan has been working: CAD company revenues have been stable through the first half of 2020. But most companies are guiding down for the rest of the year as hopes fade for a fast end to the pandemic and a fast recovery. Instead, the crisis is evolving, and we're seeing rolling outbreaks worldwide. We know now that recovery is going to take some time.

What's also true is that in our modern age, every period of recession has been accompanied by innovation and transformation. Read more »

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Kathleen Maher is an analyst at Jon Peddie Research (JPR) where she studies the software market as it is affected by computer graphics, especially CAD and content creation.

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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff