Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

ChipWatch: Design Show DAC Jammed With People

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 31, 2009

By Matt Grimshaw

Just as the post Semicon West hangover began to lift, the organizers of the Design Automation Conference, more commonly known as DAC, decided to not only put it in San Francisco this year but also within a fortnight of the Semicon West melee.

Most of my colleagues that cover the Semiconductor space don't care too much about this fact because most don't cover the design segment, but sadly for my inbox (which is again being crushed under the weight of press releases) we do and so I needed to spend at least a day there, which turned out to be Monday.

DAC Christmas

The difference between the first day of DAC and the first day of Semicon West was as contrasting as the day before Christmas and the day itself.

DAC seemed (and it appears the attendance figures support this) to be jammed like every mall in the land on Christmas Eve, full of pent up excitement and hustle in direct contrast to West's feeling of "we've opened all the presents, what's for breakfast?" feeling of it's all over barring the clean up mood.

Well, certain bits of it were. Specifically the Synopsys and Mentor booths which both had the air of a nightclub at kicking out time - you know that sort of aimless mélange of people milling about while bouncers (the booth staff) desperately try to keep the walkways open so that they don't break fire-codes.

DAC virgin

As a DAC virgin this state of reality came as somewhat of a shock to me as I wasn't expecting it to be busy at all; I thought it'd be just like Semicon West two weeks prior which was positively pedestrian with regards to footfall.

As this was my first DAC I'd decided to wing it and wander the show floor instead of setting up a schedule which essentially traps you in meeting rooms from morning until night...my thinking was that it'd be quiet and I could waft around making new contacts and getting the lay of the land, this very much was not the case.

Instead I was confronted with that most irritating of sentences wherever I went; "I'm sorry he/she is in a meeting".... The horror was palpable: How dare they have the audacity to be having business meetings at a trade show! Don't they know there's a recession on? Seriously, barring one meeting with Synopsys & Chartered to discuss the Common Platform Alliance (thanks Sheryl & Yvette) it was a total wash out.

Unpopular press

Everyone was busy, all the right people were in back to back meetings and I was left doing laps of the Moscone center trying to find people to talk with while booth people rushed up to me in order to sign me up for any number of giveaway competitions only to then say "sorry" and turn away as the glaring red of the word "PRESS" sunk in and they realized that I was not a customer (I'd have been offended if it wasn't so comical), and herein lay the second problem.

Whenever I go to an event I always have to register as 'Press' even though I'm not a journo, as most organizations simply cannot comprehend our Editorial model (like a tech conference, but in print) and a press badge usually has the opposite of the desired effect for me. The technical people that I need to speak to run for the hills while the marketing & PR folks lay down a spread of covering fire & smoke grenades trying to distract me with press kits and 2GB memory sticks, but not an LED laden bouncy ball to be found (see last week's post). At Semicon West this year it had been very different, the front line PR troops had for the most part been left behind leaving Tech VP's unguarded and easy prey, but not at DAC, not at all.

So why the hell is DAC so busy?

Is it because of the fact that unless your name is Intel or Samsung then you really can't afford to be making your own chips (yes, yes I know there are others but these are the names 99% of people recognize) can you? So the differentiator has to be Design and this appears to be the big difference. Moore's law hasn't stopped it's mad rampage towards the world of quantum and so although Fab's can be slowed and even stopped from a manufacturing perspective, the public's thirst for new toys and gadgets is too overwhelming to allow the Design community to do the same and wind down for a while - hence the frenetic activity.

Don't get me wrong, the Design community is hurting just like everyone else, but certainly not as badly as say the Lithography tool vendors in my opinion. This is carrying on the trend that eventually there'll be just a handful of physical manufacturers and everything else will be design based, just like the Consumer Electronics Manufacturing arena... it appears not to be if, but when & how bad.

[Matt Grimshaw is the Editorial Director of the Semiconductor Technical Journal; Future Fab International (www.future-fab.com).

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