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Top 10 Questions Going into DesignCon 2017

Top 10 Questions Going into DesignCon 2017
DesignCon 2017 is right around the corner -- Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Here are my picks for what’s hot in signal integrity right here, right now, plus shwag and Chiphead’s favorite song.

Here I offer you my top picks for what to see, smell, taste, and do at DesignCon 2017, happening at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, from Tuesday, January 31, through Thursday, February 2. You can register for the conference here, and see the agenda here.

1. The annual opening night #JitterPanel—a.k.a., The case of the Closing Eyes: 400G Signal Integrity —isn’t really about jitter anymore but we can’t manage to let go of the 14 year-old nickname—so what will it be this year?

We’ll start with some problems in the development PAM4 signaling from the perspective of designer and the test & measurement folks who try to satisfy them. We’ll expand to great gripes like: What’s the point in technology standards that are released a year after designs come to market? How many “goofy measurements” are crammed into specifications and which can we ignore for PAM4? How important is it to get your Gray coding right? Is FEC (forward error correction) really a cornucopia, or is it worth the cost in bandwidth, power, and latency…and BER (bit error ratio) measurement confusion? Why do we have to assume worst case patterns AND worst case crosstalk AND how many people can we cram onto that stage?

Please bring some problems (and petty grievances) for the panelists to discuss.

2. Will Ansys bring back the Maxwell’s Equations T-shirts?

Back in the good old daze, when jitter was our worst nightmare and the tech economy was still emerging from the dot-com crash, we could look forward to donning our Ansys T-shirts that proclaimed to the world, “It all began with Maxwell.” We could walk the streets in arrogance, intimidating the other kids with the vector form of the big four. But now? You can’t even make out the curl of Faraday’s law on this beat up old shirt.

I’ve heard rumors that you can get a Maxwell’s Equations shirt if you know the password…if anyone finds out the password, please post it in the comments section.

3. Is PAM4 working?

In 2015 we turned our backs on NRZ signaling—the only scheme that’s ever worked in high speed serial signaling—like Britain turned on the EU—the only signaling scheme that’s ever maintained more than two consecutive decades of peace in Europe—and rushed into a PAM4 future like (wisecrack including red baseball caps deleted).

Was the reported ease of PAM4 fake news?

Last year (2016) we saw that PAM4 is no picnic, that the mishmash of analysis techniques are silly, and that most of us have forgotten the difference between BER and SER (symbol error ratio), not to mention baud and bps.

There are twelve different presentations that have PAM4 in their titles at DesignCon2017 and at least five more that will touch on it in one way or another.

4. Will Yuri Shlepnev bring enough chocolate?

If you’ve never seen Dr. Shlepnev’s animations of electromagnetic fields and current density, then pull up a chair at the Simberian booth, grab his bag of chocolate, and let Yuri’s simulations blow you away. It’s like a VR electron experience!

5. How will machine learning, analytics, and AI affect Chiphead?

                             Courtesy of Anritsu Co.

COM (channel operation margin) might be a goofy test, but it’s a sincere attempt to span the space of designs to find the optimal balance of channel response, crosstalk, equalization, jitter, and noise. Well into the 21st century, we might not know what IBIS stands for, but we know what it does. We’ll have a look into the signal integrity crystal ball and glimpse where we can go with full system simulation and optimization.

Try to get a seat next to Al Neves, the fiery preacher of all things “Design Space.”

6. Will more people attend Keysight’s “education forum” than showed up at the last sixteen 49er games…combined?


What’s that?

You’re still putting off learning about S-parameters? And you you’re pretty sure you’re getting away with it?

No, you’re not. Sit your ass down at 8:30am Wednesday and let Steve Slater learn you a few things. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you thought. Sure it’s all analog and RF-like, but it’s also a perspective-altering take on how channels respond to signals, even when the signal is crosstalk. Steve will get you through it.

Curious about PCIe Gen 4? The great Rick Eads brings the gospel.

Wondering about PAM4? Well, let me just say that Chiphead and I scored a copy of Steve Sekel’s class from last year and it’s pretty much all we’ve listened to at the Clubhouse all year. I’m kinda sick of the part about compressed eyes, but Chiphead loves it.

7. Will Samtec run out of stuffed tigers again?

                       Photo by Ransom Stephens

Yes, they always do. Don’t wait until late on Thursday when you’re breaking down your booth to go score the kids the finest shwag in town. Get your tiger first, and remember, if you have to listen a spiel about electro-optical cables and impedance-matching connectors, you’ll be a better engineer for it.

8. Will the line of attendees trying to attend Eric Bogatin’s seminar extend around the block and into Levi’s Stadium?

Probably. If they don’t simulcast his “Back to Basics: The onset of skin effect in circuit board traces” on the Jumbotron there might be trouble.

Skin effect is the biggest part of the biggest problem faced in the design of high speed signaling. It’s a beautiful mix of Faraday’s induction and dielectric response that lends itself to Prof. Bogatin’s talent for explaining signal integrity concepts that stick with you because they make sense.

9. Will DesignCon finally embrace photonics? Or is photonics ready for DesignCon?

A CMOS silicon photonics chip.

Credit: IBM Research, Source:

Wait. This can’t be right. A talk about optical transceiver sockets?

Am I in the right building? What year is it?

We’ve waited so long for this day… but sockets? That’s the only photonics paper? I was promised a silicon waveguide driven by genuine integrated photonics.

One step at a time, my friend, DesignCon will see the infrared light some day.

10. Some guy promoting his neuroscience book? How did that get in the program?

Well, grasshopper, it’s not what you know…wait, yes it is!

Since I clearly can’t solve the world’s problems myself, the least I can do is prime your brain to do so. In researching my new book, The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain: a look at the neuroscience of innovation & creativity in art, science & life, I found a few techniques that can help you (and me) work more effectively, find and fix bugs faster, fire up your Aha! patent-generating gray matter (and white matter), and, well, if it turns out that I can’t do any of that, then hopefully we can have a few laughs and you’ll get to see my focus-de-focus innovation op-amp. If it’s really bad, you can always throw your Samtec tiger at me.

Created by Engineers for Engineers. Find the latest in PCB design tools, power and signal integrity, jitter and crosstalk, high-speed serial design, test and measurement tools, parallel and memory interface design, ICs, semiconductor components, and more. Attend DesignCon 2017, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 in Santa Clara, CA. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.
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