August News

Moore’s Law extended into marketing

25th August, 2011: Rotors Pressed Wire News Agency, Inc.
Ever since Moore’s law was described by Intel co-founder in 1965, the number of transistors doubles roughly every two years. Some time ago, the popular trend was eighteen months—anyway, a relentless challenge that has driven not only technology, but also marketing departments.

Take the FPGA industry that has slogans like “better than the closest competitor”, etc. They pre-announce new products before delivering them—like everyone else! In the Neanderthal age of electronics, this was a ploy to gauge customer interest in a product and decide whether to build or dump. These days it is an attempt to stop customers buying competing products while desperately try to introduce their next one.

We recognised this trend back in the early 1980s without even being Nobel prize winning economists, and used to buy chips of an announced family before starting the printed circuit board layout (National Semiconductor’s 32000 family being a typical case as the 68000 took over). Often, the chips would just be left in the drawer when a competing technology made them redundant or economically obsolete. Lead times for new chips were well over a month and there was no point in sitting with an empty circuit board while you hoped that the first silicon release would not be too buggy. Other bets were that the marketing department’s hype and reality were at least in the same solar system—Transputers being slightly beyond Uranus which is a small planet opposite to the direction you normally gaze (ie, if you are looking forwards, it will be behind you).

NS32000 chip family

It is now almost the end of August, 2011. The white paper, WP396 from Xilinx, dated 27th April, 2010, titled “Extensible Processing Platform Ideal Solution for a Wide Range of Embedded Systems", described a dual core ARM A9 in a FPGA fabric. Dual ARM cores have been around for ages, and Xilinx is no stranger to FPGAs, so why has it taken almost eighteen months to deliver what the marketing department described? Could it be Moore’s Law in marketing pre-announcements? Is it eighteen months or two years? Is the planet of interest here Pluto?

Visitors parking in cemetry

These types of trends catch our eye. On the way home in Port Elizabeth, there was a cemetry that probably housed some of the early 1820 settlers. Some teenager or disgruntled customer decided to relocate a shipping company’s parking lot amongst the departed. Let’s hope the Zynq product ships before year end. We had been holding off on a Lattice Semiconductor Versa board purchase, but could wait no longer and took the plunge. The Versa board arrives in a week. By the way, eighteen months is a generation in silicon wonderland, so “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

Editor's note: Xilinx announced the first shipments of Zynq silicon to customers on 8th December, 2011. Almost twenty months after announcement — just as bad as us!