20 Products Trending In High-Speed Interconnect Technologies

What follows is but a small sampling from more than 175 high-tech companies exhibiting at DesignCon 2020.
  • In addition to keynotes, expert panels, technical papers, IEEE credited sessions and educational tracks, DesignCon 2020 included a wealth of demos and information on the exhibition floor. Here are 20 hardware and software companies offering a sample of what’s trending in the world of high-speed datacom and telecom communication, interconnects, test equipment and simulation tools -- and just some of what you missed at the 25th anniversary celebration of DesignCon.

  • eTopus Technology

    eTopus - named for the visualization of an electronic octopus - designs ultra-high speed mixed-signal semiconductor IP for high-performance computing and data center applications. The company’s ultra-high speed SerDes is intended in storage, enterprise, and hyperscale data centers

    At Designcon2020, eTopus demonstrated the Western Digital ASIC product that utilized the eTopus ethernet connection. I spoke with Harry Chan, Founder and CEO at eTopus about this demo. Here’s what he had to say: “This demonstration shows communications between a non-volatile memory over Ethernet fabric. In this set-up, our customer is using an enclosure with an SST hard drive. They also have a server which connects to a Mellanox 100G switch that connects to the enclosure. Inside the enclosure is a chip that our customer is building to act as an on-board memory over fabric controller that takes the traffic from the server and connects it to all the drives. What we are demonstrating now is the Read/Write operations to show how close they are to the maximum, the input/output per second (or IOPS). As you can see, it has an impressive throughput. The theoretical limit that can be achieve is 2.8 million IOPs. We are showing here that one of the systems is reaching 2.67 million IOPS. It’s not reaching the theoretical limit because the server doesn’t have enough power, not because of the limitation of the chip. For our part, we are using the eTopus SerDes IP, which is in our 28Gbs ePHY IP.”

  • Keysight

    Keysight had many demos at the show covering DDR5 transmitter (Tx) and receiver (Rx) compliance equipment, PCIe 5.0 testers, USB 4.0 connections and signal and power integrity measurement devices. As part of their Data Center Connectivity section, the company highlighted a 400GE 4-Level Pulse Amplitude Modulation (PAM4) test and validation platform. Also, as part of this application specific section was a 100 GBaud Error Analysis system with Forward Error Correction (FEC). Finally, a PAM4 400G Bit Error Rate (BER) highlighted real-time BERs on all electrical lanes to evaluate the performance of FEC for PAM4 encoded signaling.

  • TE Connectivity

    In addition to displaying their large family of interconnects for backplane and 5G ready coax connectors, TE Connect had several demos for co-packaging, 5G, power delivery and thermal management.

    Getting rid of unwanted heat can be a challenge in any electronic design, but even more so as high-speed signals tend to generate more heat on the chip and the board. A thermal bridge is typically an unwanted heat path in a PCB circuit. If a component has higher thermal conductivity than the surrounding materials, it creates a path of least resistance for heat transfer. This results in an overall reduction in thermal resistance of the object.

    Today, thermal pads and gap pads are used to decrease the formation of unwanted thermal bridges in electronic circuits. TE Connectivity claims to have a new thermal bridge technology, which provides up to 2X better thermal resistance over traditional technologies. These thermal bridge solutions feature a near-zero plate gap in the bridge construction. This improves the thermal transfer capabilities of the system. Also, it minimizes the level of compression required to transfer heat over a path.

  • Rohde & Schwarz

    Rohde & Schwarz demonstrated signal integrity debugging with a jitter decomposition approach for its oscilloscopes. A new option for the company’s oscilloscopes helps development engineers gain more insight into the individual jitter components of their signals. Now they can separate jitter into its random and deterministic components and view results for more effective debugging. The company’s decomposition algorithm uses a parametric signal model for accurate measurements and additional result representations. One result is consistent measurement data for even relatively short signal sequences, plus information such as the step response, or a distinction between vertical and horizontal periodic jitter.

  • Cadence Design Systems

    Digital transformation in major design segments have leveraged advances in hyper-connectivity and artificial intelligence from the edge to the cloud. This trend, in turn, has spurred development of custom systems and system-on-chips (SoCs) optimized for their particular application requirements. As a response to this trend, Cadence believes we have arrived in the era of Intelligent System Design.

    All of the company’s tool suites participate in this intelligent system design to do advanced electromagnetic, electronic, and thermal analysis, advanced IC packaging and cross-platform designs to incorporating ICs with advanced DDR IP. One of the show floor demos focused on their Virtuoso RF tool suite, a Co-design environment for RFIC, RF module, and package design. Another demo (shown in the image) showcased the tPCB-/package-level signal and power integrity analysis tool suites.

  • Takachi

    The Japanese-based company showed off a dazzling array of brightly colored electronic and industrial enclosures including aluminum, plastic, and handheld enclosures, diecast aluminum and stainless steel boxes, 19"rack mount enclosures, new IP67・IP65 plastic boxes for sloped and medical applications and more. Did you know that Takachi can customize enclosures using their CNC machining, inkjet printing, and CAD-based designs?

  • Teledyne LeCroy

    Like many exhibitors at the show, Teledyne LeCroy hosted several technical seminars and tutorials, for example, “Open-Source Software Tools for Signal Integrity.” This tutorial was taught by the company’s VP Technology Development - Peter Pupalaikis. He has just published a book through Cambridge University on, “S-Parameters for Signal Integrity.” Some of you my still remember S-parameters from math and circuit theory as a way to describe electrical behavior in electrical systems when stimuli are introduced. What makes Peter’s book unique is the accompanying open-source software, which provides a welcome alternative to existing proprietary software.

    Not surprisingly, Teledyne LeCroy offers scattering parameter (S-parameter) measurement systems to further aid designers and testers. During the show, the company showcased its support for the newly announced Compute Express Link (CXL) Protocol on its Summit PCI Express (PCIe) protocol analyzers. 

  • Dino-Lite

    There were several companies showing off their digital microscope technology at the show including Dino-Lite, PacketMicro and others. Dino-Lite is a brand name for Omano Microscopes. The company’s portable digital microscopes and eyepiece cameras provide high-quality microscopy video interfacing to PC and MAC. Most models provide impressive magnification with features such as measurement and adjustable polarizer. The included software makes it easy to take snapshots, record videos, manipulate images, and save and email discoveries.

  • Molex

    At this year’s show, Molex and Spectra7 Microsystems highlighted the 400G active copper interconnects. Spectra7 Microsystems provides analog semiconductor products for broadband connectivity markets while Molex is a vendor of high-performance interconnects. Recently, many interconnect customers have been asking for longer-length active copper versions of the existing passive copper QSFP-DD (Quad Small Form Factor–Double Density) cable assemblies. The Molex system along with Spectra7’s GaugeChanger technology claims to offer up to 12 times less power, while providing significant cost savings over optical solutions for hyperscale customers. Apparently, significant US hyperscale deployment of 400 Gbps network equipment will begin in 2020.

    The exhibit that caught my attention was the on the “Open 19 Backplane Cabling Through Packet Infrastructure.” Liz Hardin, Group Product Manager – Enterprise Products at Molex, shared these comments: “Molex, in collaboration with Packet, is showcasing the Packet Hardware Platform; an Open19 based system. The company’s support of this platform leverages an Impel based cable assembly breaking out to 2 QSFP connectors enabling up to 56G PAM4 signaling per lane with redundant signal capability from the standard switch.  Packet has partnered with ASRock Rack on the server bricks and is showcasing three versions in this demo – the t3.small.x86, an AMD EPYC 3151 based micro-server with two nodes per brick; the c3.small.x86, an Intel E-2278G based micro-server with two nodes per brick; and the c3.medium.x86, an AMD EPYC 7002 (Rome) single-socket system in a brick supporting PCIe Gen4 using OCP 3.0 architecture.”

  • GigaTest Labs

    GigaTest Labs offers systems and services for probing, measurement and characterization of high frequency interconnects. They have a variety of single, dual and deep access probes and probing stations used for PCB, RF and fine pitch large board probing. Typically, these probing stations are paired with a TDR scope, VNA or oscilloscope for signal integrity (SI) measurements. At the heart of the probing system is the micro-positioner, low profile three-axis positioners that are vacuum mounted and have a planarity adjustment for probing on a device under test (DUT).

    The GTL5050 probe station (shown in the image) was designed to address 2-sided probing. Instead of trying to probe with a board mounted vertically, this probe station provides 2 probe stations in one -  a topside and a bottom side probe station where the entire probe station can rotate180 degrees allowing quick setup and pre-configuration.

  • Blue Clover Devices

    A few years back, Blue Clover Devices released the Production Line Tool (PLT), a cloud native hardware test automation device. Since then, the PLT has been supplemented with an in-circuit tester (ICT) to help our clients launch their hardware faster. The Production Line Tool is a box that loads firmware, runs automated tests, and logs the results in the cloud. It is designed to serve the needs of developers throughout the product life cycle. After an IoT device is designed and validated on a PLT, identical boxes are sent to the production line for programming and testing at manufacturing scale. The development team can see results directly from the production line and stay ahead of issues that delay the product build.

    The ICT is a box with vertical arms supporting a toggle clamp. To perform in-circuit testing on a customized PCB, the ICT hosts a custom-built Pogo Pin Cassette (PPC).

  • VSI Labs

    Last year, autonomous vehicle (AV) research firm VSI Labs utilized their autonomous research vehicle for the 2,000-mile journey, driving from Minneapolis, MN, to Santa Clara, CA, where the Drive World conference was held. The purpose of this unprecedented project is to test the value of using HD maps and enhanced GPS technology to improve the performance and safety of highway autonomous driving applications. The team is also hoping to better understand how these technologies operate across varying terrains, weather, and driving conditions.

    VSI has been testing its AV research vehicles at its lab facility and on public roads for more than two years. At this year’s DesignCon, they demo’d their IR sensor technology. Also, Sara Sargent, their Engineering Project Manager, spoke on the Chiphead Theater about the key building blocks of automated vehicles and was part of the “Women & Minorities in STEM” panel.

  • Rambus

    Rambus is a developer of chip interface products and services, including double data rate (DDR) memory controller interface PHY cells (e.g., DDR 1 through DDR 5) as well as Graphics Double Data Rate (GDDR) memory. On display this year were where the company’s  GDDR, SerDes and HBM IP Cores, and MACsec/IPsec Protocol Engines for today’s data center and networking applications. Additionally, they hosted technical training sessions on topics including interface solutions for 5G; chiplet architecture interface alternatives; memory solutions for AI/ML; interface solutions for enterprise and hyperscale data centers; emerging requirements for automotive interfaces; 3D packaging solutions.

    High-speed interconnects are key to data center performance and growth, with interconnects form cloud services, IoT devices, Streaming video, big data, wireless networks, eCommerce and social media. Rambus highlighted three types of multi-protocol SerDes PHYs this year: 28G, 32G and 112G PHYs (see image of 28G).

  • Xilinx

    Xilinx showcased several examples of high-speed serial design, Signal and Power Integrity, and memory interfacing. Experts from Xilinx and other companies comprised a technical session that looked at component design specifications for electrical serial links beyond 112G. Based on compatibility and scalability requirements, electrical solutions for beyond 112Gbps need to be evaluated in PCB-based, orthogonal and cable-based backplane configurations. However, the design goals of the key components for beyond 112G are unclear. Two sets of component design guidelines for 224G copper transmissions have been proposed for smaller chassis/boxes and large chassis as examples. This was the topic of the technical session.

    A demo at the show featured the Xilinx 112 Gbps PAM4 7nm test chip running multiple 112Gbps PAM4 XCVRs. Channels route from the Xilinx adaptive compute acceleration platform (ACAP) chip via Samtec’s NovaRay terminal to ExaMax Backplane Socket using 34 AWG Samtec Twinax Cable. This was mated via a panel retention bracket to a 1 meter, 30 AWG backplane cable assembly, passing directly through a lower-cost and lower-complexity PCB.

    The return path of the channels repeated themselves back to the Xilinx 112 Gbps PAM4 7nm ACAP test chip, which processes the data to display BER performance (see image).

  • Samtec

    First of all, Samtec’s Istvan Novak has been named DesignCon Engineer of the Year. You can read why he received the award here. Secondly, Samtec had several demos at the show including its 112 Gbps PAM4 front-panel to mid-board Flyover technology, scalable 32 GT/s silicon test platform for AI, high-performance test solutions up to 70 GHz, 112 Gbps PAM4 mid-board to cabled backplane Flyover technology, as well as Direct Connect to silicon package.

    A few years ago, Samtec introduced its Flyover Cable System as another signal path across a PCB. According to the company, the Samtec Flyover designs break the constraints of traditional signaling substrate and hardware offerings, resulting in a cost effective, high-performance answer to the challenges of 28 Gbps and beyond. A demo at the booth showcased the 112 Gbps PAM4 Mid-board to cabled backplane flyover technology. Specifically, 4x data paths were connected between multiple 112 Gbps PAM4 SerDes through via two NovaRay cable assemblies and a long-reach ExaMAX backplane cable assembly.

  • Ansys

    Simulation software for high-speed electronics design was the focus of Ansys at the show. This approach was driven by 5G, ADAS, IoT and other wireless and other digital systems technologies that require high levels of integration, low power and small size electronics. Engineers designing with these constraints – plus shrinking timing and noise margins in PCBs, electronic packages and complex interconnects - requires multiphysics simulation tools to balance and optimize system performance.

    One stations at the company’s booth was for signal-integrity, power-integrity, and EMI simulation. The other station focused on electronics reliability (see image). Structural and thermal integrity are critical design considerations for packages/PCBs that affect reliability and product lifecycle. Thermal impact on the package, especially from the IC, is a key driver for material selection, cooling, and form factor decisions that ultimately determine the size, weight and cost of the final product. It is critical for package and system designers to determine the thermal signature of their system. This requires EM-thermal coupled analysis tools linked to mechanical analysis to determine the structural impact on the electronic package.

  • Anritsu

    Anritsu, a global provider of communications test and measurement solutions, showcased a portfolio of signal integrity systems. On display were test instruments and emerging techniques to verify designs featuring PCI Express (PCIe 3.0/4.0/5.0), Ethernet PAM4, and other high-speed interconnect technologies. Application spaces for these test instruments included chipsets, cables, interconnects and systems.

    The company had an 100 GHz SI measurement systems on display. But what caught my I was a new PCIe test platform that supported the PCIe 5.0 Base/CEM specification stressed receiver test. At the center of the demonstration was a Signal Quality Analyzer-R MP1900A Series with software for base specification calibration and BER measurement software supporting the SKP filter. With the system, engineers could configure a measurement environment for early-stage development of PCIe 5.0 IP and devices.

  • Rosenberger

    Rosenberger (North America) is a provider of RF connectors, low frequency & high frequency cable assemblies, RF test and measurement devices, automotive products, fiber optic products and custom copper assemblies. Their products are used in wireless technology, telecom, test & measurement, automotive, medical, military, industrial and data systems

    Among their many exhibits at the show was one on solderless PCB connections that were good up to 110 GHz. These PCB connectors are assembled using screws. The solderless PCB connectors are used for high performance applications. They are 30-degree angle connectors are designed to provides low return loss values for frequencies ups to 110 GHz, for single-layer or multi-layer PCB where the microwave layer is on top.

  • Amphenol ICC

    Amphenol ICC, a division of Amphenol, provides interconnect solutions for the information, communications and commercial electronics markets. At the show, the company displayed their high-speed backplane and I/O systems, storage and server, mezzanine, and power products. Several demos were provided cover the company’s 56G OverPass, 112G Mini Cool Edge, and 56GB compliance through co-planar Lyn QD and LinkOVER – a featured termination in their OverPass products. LinkOVER is an above PCB twinaxial connector system that provides system designers and layout engineers the ability to bypass lossy board traces when transmitting high bandwidth signals in next generation board-to-board, system-to-system, or chip-to-chip applications. This technology supportes data rates from 10G to more than 112G PAM4 per lane with high signal-to-noise ratio & low VSWR. LinkOVER's direct to PCB compression mount solution eliminates the need for any lossy paddle cards, minimizing transitions and losses on system budgets. It is available in screw-down and Surface Mount Technology (SMT) frame configurations, LinkOVER is an ideal solution for 100G/200G/400G Systems, lnfiniband, PCle, Chip-to-Chip links, and 5G systems.

  • TestEquity

    Designing the latest and greatest interconnect technology and PCBs requires lots of analysis and test equipment. One way to manage the cost of expensive equipment is to rent or use previously owned analyzers and tester. TestEquity meets that need by providing fully functional and recalibrated, supplied with all the accessories and instruction manuals that the original buyer would have received. Additionally, the company sells new test equipment as well as its own environmental chambers. TestEquity is an authorized distributor of Keysight, Tektronix, Keithley and Rohde & Schwarz equipment


John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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