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Analysis: Ambric exits stage...What next?

Posted: 24 Nov 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:silicon  programmable logic  schematic capture  Eclipse environment 

Times are hard and they're getting harder. As you may recall, sometime around May 2008, MathStar went belly-up after burning through something like $200 million (Rs.1,000.73 crore) of investments. [These were the folks with the Arrix Family of Field Programmable Object Arrays (FPOAs)]. (Strangely enough, there's no mention of this in the "News" portion of the MathStar site; you have to wend your way through the "Transcript of the Stockholder Meeting" that you can link to from the front page).

It was sad to see MathStar go, because they had "good silicon" that had proven itself in a variety of applications. The thing that really brought MathStar down was their tools (this has been the case for a number of the more esoteric programmable logic creators).

In fact, MathStar based their original tools on Summit Designs' schematic capture suite; ergo, MathStar owed a pound of flesh to Summit (purchased by Mentor) every time they sold – or even gave away – a tool set.

Thus it was that MathStar ended up limping along with a few high-profile design wins, but their difficult-to-use and pricey tools made wide market acceptance impossible, even with their exceptionally cool, 1GHz silicon that required no timing closure.

And now we hear that Ambric bites the dust. As compared to MathStar, the folks at Ambric (whose website also makes no mention of their exit from the stage) had their OWN homegrown tools, based on the open Eclipse environment.

These tools were both powerful and (relatively) easy to use, to the extent that software developers could use them to configure the hardware/silicon. Furthermore, while there was a stated list price for Ambric's tools, "giving them away" or loaning them (to keycustomers) was not a problem. In fact, I heard that they were on the path to release a free version of the tools over the 'net with a self-supporting user's group – but finances killed them before this plan could be implemented.

As an aside, Ambric were absolutely on the right track with regard to their tools philosophy. The history in the reconfigurable solutions business is clear – in EVERY case where a radically new, potentially industry-changing technology has been successful, the market has been initially seeded with FREE tools. From ABEL/CUPL/PALASM and 22V10s (AMD, Cypress, and Lattice dropped 5 1/4" floppies from helicopters on potential customers) to Altera's intro of CPLDs with the original MAX tools, to Xilinx giving away copies of XACT to get customers interested in, and using, the original X2000 series FPGAs, easy-to-use and accessible tools have been the key. Ambric was almost there, and using the Internet for distribution and on-line support would have offered a HUGE advantage over their ancestors with their helicopters and 5 1/4" floppies!

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