Monthly Archives: May 2018

CEO Talk: James McDonald, Cactus Semiconductor

This interview was conducted with James McDonald, President at Cactus Semiconductor.


james macdonald small


Tell me a bit about your background? How did you first get started with Cactus Semiconductor?


A majority of my education and experience has come from the technical side, primarily electrical engineering design and development.  There is a significant semiconductor industry in Arizona.  Coming out of Arizona State University, I started out like many EE’s in the area working for Motorola.


Initially I was doing a lot of design in the high-performance clock drivers and PLL areas.  Over the course of my career I eventually ended up at Medtronic and moved into technical management. The time at Medtronic really shaped the future of our company.  After about 5 years at Medtronic, I had this idea to start a company focused on analog integrated circuit design.  I found a partner, Nandini Srinivasan, our COO, who was a good complement to my skills and had a similar value system.   So, we made the jump and co-founded the company in late 2002.


Tell me about Cactus Semiconductor?


Our company, originally called “Cactus Custom Analog Design”, started out in late 2002 as a pure integrated circuit design and development company. With the existing semiconductor business in the Phoenix area and Motorola splitting up and companies such as On Semiconductor and Freescale forming, we knew a lot of people at several companies.  This helped us get our business up and running with a large potential list of customers.


Like any company, over time our plans were to evolve into a full-service turn-key fabless semiconductor company. With Nandini and I, along with several key members of the company, coming from the Medtronic Semiconductor Group, we naturally had a niche in low power medical IC design. However, we had a lot of work to do to develop the infrastructure and a quality management system (QMS) to support these products.  We also needed to develop the relationships with vendors to support the manufacturing, assembly and test of these products.  By around 2009 we had our systems and relationships in place to start our first full turn-key Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC) in the medical area.


Since 2009 we continue to focus on full turn-key ASICs.  Our experience and expertise in designing low power battery operated mixed signal ASICs  for implantable medical devices has opened up opportunities in markets such as Internet of Things (IoT), wearable devices and power management.


When did you start Cactus Semiconductor? What were you doing before that?


Our company is now in our 16th year.  We start in 2002 under the name of Cactus Custom Analog Design, CCAD for short.  Eventually we changed our name to Cactus Semiconductor to better represent our capabilities as a full fabless semiconductor company. Prior to starting Cactus, both my business partner and I were part of the Medtronic Semiconductor Group.  The experience in low power analog design with a medical focus helped pave the way to our primary market at Cactus today.  As a Design Manager at Medtronic, I was able to see the big picture requirements to running an IC development group.  This knowledge allowed us to get started as a design service company way back in 2002.


What problem did you see that needed to be fixed? What is your approach to solving that?


A lot of medical device companies, particularly implantable medical device companies, really require low power and miniaturization of the electronics.  In addition, they each have unique analog requirements that are custom to their medical therapies. To make a system from off-the-shelf components usually results in much bigger form factors with much higher power consumption. Therefore, there is a need for a custom or at least a semi-custom integrated circuit to realistically get to the power and size specifications for their implantable system.


Most of these companies require only 1 ASIC for several years.  Hence, most medical device companies, particularly startups, it is not reasonable to staff up and develop the infrastructure of a semiconductor company for that 1 ASIC.  This is where Cactus Semiconductor can bring our experience, expertise, and ecosystem into play to design, develop and support production of their ASIC.   Since we are designing for many medical device companies, we have the economies of scale working in our favor.


How was the role/offering of Cactus Semiconductor changed during the recent years?


Initially we started out as a pure design service company.  Gradually, as we build our quality systems and established our vendor relationships, we moved into full turn-key ASIC development and production support.  A few years ago, we also designed our first Cactus branded Application Specific Standard Product (ASSP) for neuro-stimulation.  This medical focused semi-custom IC gives companies a chance to prove out their therapies for neuro-stimulation while taking advantage of the size and power benefits of this application specific product without the engineering development costs (NRE) and cycle time of a full custom integrated circuit.


What is a typical customer for Cactus Semiconductor?


We have perhaps 3 distinct segments of customers.  Our biggest market is in the medical application space, particularly implantable medical devices.  A second segment of customers is in the portable, battery operated, often energy harvesting, space.  These customers are absolutely concerned about power and size, much like the implantable medical customers, but have more Internet of Things (IoT) or wearable consumer applications in mind.  Lastly, we still maintain our pure design service offering.  This appeals to major vertically integrated semiconductor companies and some of the very large medical device companies who need more design bandwidth or some expertise that Cactus can offer.


What are the 3 top things you wish your customers would do better (or different)?


I would say first, a solid specification is a must prior to embarking on design.  Next, understanding that all development processes are not the same.  Lastly, communication and transparency in that communication are critical.


I think for all customers the key to success for both of us is a solid definition or specification of the product they want us to design.  The further along in the development cycle, if requirements change, even slightly, the rework and verification process is time consuming.  If changes occur late in the game, there is an added risk.  Concurrent engineering can have benefits, but it comes at a cost.


Speaking of cost, cost and schedule are critical components of development, but there are other aspects to consider such and the quality of the development process and risk.  We can avoid doing top level mixed mode simulations completely or we can do several weeks of those simulations.  Several weeks of simulations will help find problems, design in quality and reduce risk, but it will also cost more and take more time.  Producing high quality first silicon designs should be the focus.  In the end, this will save our customers both time and money.


Finally, it is very important to keep communications open and be transparent about your real needs.  There are always trade-offs to be made in cost, schedule, risk, performance as well as other factors.  Only if we communicate openly about the project milestones and goals will we, as a team, be able to make optimal decisions based on those trade-offs.


Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?


We are looking for experienced Test Engineers that ideally have some Product Engineering experience as well. We are also looking at increasing our digital design staff.  As a small company, we prefer digital designers that have a broad level of experience with all stages of design. This would include RTL coding, verification, place and route, test insertion, timing closure, etc. We only hire direct.  We don’t use 3rd party agencies. So, the best way to apply is through our website.


What is your #1 advice for people who want to work for Cactus Semiconductor?


Technical skills are obviously important, but teamwork and soft skills are equally important to those who wish to be successful at Cactus.  As a small company, everyone will have exposure to our customers.  We use the phase, “Check your ego at the door”.  Our focus is on helping the team succeed, which includes our vendors and our customers.  As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If the team succeeds, inherently there will be individual success, opportunities, and rewards.


Where can one find more information?


The best place to find more information is at our website,


How do you spend your time outside working hours?


Running a company can be all consuming, especially mentally.  Getting away from the office is not just being physically away but mentally relaxing.  I have found endurance sports a great way to relieve stress and relax.  I’ve been running marathons for about 20 plus years with a goal of running a marathon in every state plus DC.  I have 6 more states to go.  Also, I started participating in triathlons about 10 years ago.  I’ve successfully completed 2 full Ironman triathlons.  I’m fortunate that my wife also enjoys these activities.  After a hard workout we often go out for a nice dinner and maybe throw in some ice cream as a treat.

Andes Technology Corporation and XtremeEDA Corporation Cooperate to Develop Joint Design Wins on Emerging RISC-V Designs

Andes Technology Corporation, the leading Asia-based suppliers of small, low-power, high performance 32-bit embedded CPU cores, and XtremeEDA Corporation, a leading North American provider of front-end design and verification services for the semiconductor industry, today announced they will cooperate to develop joint design wins to benefit both companies. Andes will provide Its low-power, high performance CPU cores, including the first RISC-V core from a public semiconductor company; XtremeEDA will provide experienced front-end design and verification services, thus collectively reducing designers’ time to market.


“We are excited to be joining forces with XtremeEDA to provide our customers CPU IP and design resources they may not possess internally,” said Emerson Hsiao, Senior Vice President of Sales and Technical Service at Andes Technology Corporation USA. “In today’s embedded systems-on-chip (SoC) market, an increasingly important variable in how chips are designed and produced is time to market. A new start-up may have a great architectural specification but may lack the team, design tools, and IP needed to convert the design idea into a chip. In addition, many cannot afford the high cost for design verification.  Together XtremeEDA and Andes can offer its customers access to a design and verification team and a library of IP to support the Andes core that will provide reduced time to market for their unique design.”


“Andes represents a great supplement to our own sales and marketing effort,” said Chris Raeuber, XtremeEDA’s Director of Engineering, US. “As a major CPU core supplier in Asia, Andes has great market insight into the new designs going on in that region and they are bringing that knowledge to the U.S. They are identifying start-ups with unique new SoCs targeting emerging markets that need front-end and verification engineering resources, such as what we offer. Together, we provide our mutual customers a means of rapidly getting their designs into silicon.”


Complementary Strengths

One service Andes provides its customers is an FPGA based version of its processor IP on a reference platform including the new RISC-V IP core. Prospects can evaluate the Andes core using the reference board. In many instances, once a prospect becomes a customer, he may decide to use a design services supplier to take the FPGA implementation and convert it into an SoC chip design. Having XtremeEDA, who is familiar with the Andes reference platform, to convert the FPGA implementation to an SoC chip design greatly shortens the customer’s time to market.


About XtremeEDA Corp.

Founded in 2002, XtremeEDA is a North American based provider of front-end design and verification services for the semiconductor industry.  Our team is unparalleled – with employees averaging 20+ years of semiconductor industry experience and expertise that spans most major sectors. Our business approach emphasizes enduring and transformational relationships to employ creative solutions that enable extraordinary results for all stakeholders.


For more information about XtremeEDA Corporation, please visit


About Andes

Andes Technology Corporation was founded in Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan in 2005 to develop innovative high-performance/low-power 32/64-bit processor cores and associated development environment to serve worldwide rapidly growing embedded system applications. The company delivers the best super low power CPU cores with integrated development environment and associated software and hardware solutions for efficient SoC design.


To meet demanding requirements of today’s electronic devices, Andes Technology delivers configurable software/hardware IP and scalable platforms to respond to customers’ needs for quality products and faster time-to-market. Andes Technology’s comprehensive CPU includes entry-level, mid-range, high-end, extensible and security families to address the full range of embedded electronics products, especially for connected, smart and green applications.


For more information about Andes Technology, please visit

Resurgence in 8051 Microcontroller Applications Drives New IP Cores Sales for CAST

Semiconductor intellectual property provider CAST, Inc. has seen a significant upswing in licenses for the venerable 8051 microcontroller, as today’s designers rediscover that the simplicity, low-power operation, small silicon area, and relatively inexpensive cost of this 8-bit MCU are an excellent match for the demands of many modern products. Specifically, in just the first quarter of 2018, CAST 8051 licenses were up by 30% compared to all of 2017, and reached their highest level for the last twelve years.


cast 8051 product icon


CAST first introduced 8051 IP cores in 1997, marked its 200th license in 2013, and has continued healthy sales since then. Early applications ranged “from washing machines to space probes,” and today 8051s from CAST have been in hundreds of thousands of shipped customer products.


Continuous improvements over twenty years led to performance many times greater than envisioned by the 8051’s architects, while retaining compatibility with the original MCS-51 instruction set architecture. Silicon area and memory requirements have shrunk with IP maturity, and improvements to configurability, deliverables, and packaging have simplified 8051 development, integration, and testing. There is also a full ecosystem of evaluation options, programming tools, debugging hardware, reference design boards, and more, making the 8051s available from CAST some of the easiest MCUs to use.


Today these benefits make modern 8051 IP cores an excellent solution for Internet of Things and other applications with constrained power availability. One CAST customers’ wireless communications SoC, for example, operates strictly by harvesting the energy it needs from the environment. Designers today also value the reliability of the 8051 and use it in automotive, industrial, and space applications. New designs use 8051s in a variety of roles such as a power-management controller; the control and calibration engine for sensors, analog front ends, and high-speed serial interfaces; or the processor executing low-level software stacks for wireless and other communication protocols. Beyond the technical advantages, CAST’s royalty-free licensing makes its 8051s especially attractive for high volume applications.


“8051 compatibles have been a mainstay of the CAST IP product line for two decades,” said Nikos Zervas, chief executive officer for CAST. “We had thought 32-bit processors like our BA2X line would eventually replace the 8051s, but we’re excited to continue providing—and improving—these 8-bit wonders for designers who find them a great solution for a whole new set of system design challenges.”


About the 8051-Compatible MCU Family


The 8051-Compatible Microcontroller IP Cores Family available from CAST is a cost-effective range of MCS-51 conforming 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers with a variety of options for performance, size, peripherals, and configurability. It includes some of the fastest and the smallest such cores available, plus integrated hardware debugging options, reference designs and hardware/software evaluation boards, and support by leading software development environments.


The 8051 MCU IP cores are sourced from Silesia Devices, whose engineers created some of the first such cores ever developed and are today world-leading experts in MCS-51 microcontrollers and related systems. Learn more at



About CAST


In addition to the 8051 family, CAST offers extreme-low-power 32-bit BA2X™ processors; industry-leading automotive interfaces and data compression solutions; a range of video and image processing functions; and a variety of peripherals, interfaces, security, and other IP cores. CAST IP features easy integration and reuse, royalty-free licensing, and availability for ASICs (RTL) or FPGAs (netlists) from all leading silicon providers. Learn more by visiting, emailing, or calling +1 201.391.8300.

HDL Design House and Mentor Workshop at Aviation Electronics Europe 2018

HDL Design House, provider of digital, analog, and back-end design and verification services and products in numerous areas of SoC, will host a joint technical workshop with Mentor, a Siemens business, at the Aviation Electronics Europe conference on June 19th, 2018 at the MOC Event Center in Munich, at 4pm. The workshop presenters will be Ms. Olivera Stojanovic, Verification Project Leader at HDL DH, Mr. Ivan Ristic, Senior Verification Engineer, Mr. Jacob Wiltgen, Functional Safety Solutions Architect at Mentor, a Siemens business and Mr. Michael Bierl, Applications Engineer at Mentor, a Siemens business.


Reuse, a crucial part of constrained-random verification, has been widely applied in land-based commercial electronics for the last decade. The joint workshop focuses on the application of state-of-the-art verification techniques in DO-254 projects.


Presenters at the workshop will introduce constrained random verification, highlighting requirement traceability goals that are mandatory in safety-critical designs. The concept of verification IP will be explained, followed by an overview demonstrating how third-party reusable verification IP provides the features and ease of use to rapidly verify and certify industry-standard protocols. Thus, attendees will learn how to demonstrate that all protocol features have been exercised and the elemental analysis evidence required by the DER.


“The ongoing trend to add further degrees of automation in aviation systems has triggered exponential growth in IC complexity and additional challenges ensuring those devices operate without failure,” explains Wiltgen. “Mentor’s verification solutions have helped design teams worldwide develop innovative ICs in virtually every industry. These tools and techniques can also be applied by designers of aviation ICs to achieve to new levels of IC design innovation, while still adhering to required safety standards. At our workshop during Aviation Electronics Europe 2018, IC engineers will learn about the very latest techniques and technologies for addressing these critical industry challenges and trends.”


The workshop is taking place on Tuesday 19 June, 4pm, at the Aviation Electronics Europe, and is free to attend.


HDL Design House will also present a paper on the application of random verification in DO-254 projects on June 19that 2pm at the conference. For further questions, please visit the HDL Design House booth (#B36) or the Mentor demo within the Exhibitor Showcase.


For more information, please contact Milena Jovanovic,


About HDL Design House:


HDL Design House delivers leading-edge digital, analog, and back-end design and verification services and products in numerous areas of SoC and complex FPGA designs. The company also develops IP cores, and component (VITAL) models for major SoC product developers. Founded in 2001 and currently employing 170 engineers working in three design centers in Serbia and Greece, HDL Design House’s mission is to deliver high quality products and services, with flexible licensing models, competitive pricing and responsible technical support. The company was awarded ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 27001:2013 certifications in December 2006 and has achieved certifications from Direct Assessment Services (DAS). HDL DH joined the ARM® Approved Design Partner program, through which leading SoC design houses are recognized by ARM as accredited partners in specific technologies and activities. For more information, please visit


Chipus grows its battery charger IP family

Chipus has been developing battery charger circuits since 2012 and the new IP generation reuses the proven experience of the existing designs with enhanced capabilities.


First generation of battery charger family IP was silicon proven in 2013 in SilTerra 0.18um CMOS and it is capable of dealing with 1.5A charging current in fast charge mode. In order to extend input voltage range, the second generation  was designed in BCD technology and it is capable of dealing with up to 30V.


The 3rd generation of battery charger IP (CM1713ff), that is now being fabricated in SilTerra 0.18um BCD (D18V), is designed to consume down to 40 nA in OFF mode (or battery supply mode) and features a programmable output voltage to deal with different battery types. This IP also features a bi-directional power switch, allowing the battery to supply the whole system when the system voltage is lower than the battery voltage. The range of applications now encompasses IoT (Internet of Things) in which the stand-by power consumption is a key parameter.


Technical information about these IPs can be found in this application note.


“It is important to keep the pace in the development of innovative power management IPs. The market is requesting lower power solutions driven by the IoT and mobile trends. Battery lifetime is a strong concern” explains Murilo Pessatti, Chipus’ CEO.


Daniel Mioni, technical leader of the power management team at Chipus, added “we included an aggressive idle mode. Cutting down the power consumption to few nA was a challenge. Programmable fast charge current, battery voltage and end-of-charge current can be configured digitally by writing in a particular register. We are targeting applications that use lithium batteries with different voltages. This new feature gives a lot of flexibility for the user to configure the IP”.


“Concerning the next generation of battery chargers, we have been receiving requests from potential leading customers to develop these IPs in smaller nodes such as 55nm to suit applications that require big digital designs. We already have some interesting and encouraging results at the moment regarding this path”, complements Murilo.


Visit Chipus’ website for more information on the Battery Charger IP family here or write to


Highlights – Chipus Battery Chargers:


Chipus Microelectronics full IP Catalog can be found here for more information.


About Chipus


Chipus Microelectronics is a semiconductor company with proven expertise in the development of ultra-low-power, low-voltage, analog and mixed-signal integrated circuits (ICs) and systems on chip (SoCs).


Relying on a strong experience in power management and data converters, the company has more than 200 IP mixed-signal blocks in process nodes from 40nm to 0.35um of various foundries. Since its foundation in 2008, Chipus has provided IC design services in leading edge technologies also, including down to 28nm and 10nm, with firm commitment and flexible client support to customers worldwide (USA and Americas, Europe, and Asia).

Headquartered in Florianópolis, Brazil, Chipus has a US subsidiary in Silicon Valley and sales team in Europe.


Assuring quality standards, Chipus is ISO 9001:2015 certified.

For additional information on Chipus or its services, please visit:

Open-Silicon Achieves ISO 9001:2015 Certification

Open-Silicon, a system-optimized ASIC solution provider, today announced that it has achieved ISO 9001:2015 certification. The internationally-recognized certification includes Open-Silicon’s design, manufacture and sales of ASICs utilizing subcontracted wafer fabrication, assembly and test services. This certification is an enhancement from Open-Silicon’s prior ISO 9001:2008 certification and underscores the company’s ongoing commitment to quality, performance and customer satisfaction.


The ISO 9001:2015 certification was earned following an external audit performed by SGS, an ANAB-accredited inspection, verification, testing and certification body. ISO 9001:2015 includes enhanced requirements for leadership, customer focus, and risk and opportunity management. In order to meet the ISO 9001:2015 standard, a company must demonstrate adherence to a Quality Management System (QMS) that outlines good business practices and ensures consistency in providing products and services that meet customer and applicable industry requirements.


“Enhancing our certification from ISO 9001:2008 to ISO 9001:2015 demonstrates our commitment to maintaining our position as a world-class ASIC provider. The more advanced procedures associated with this certification will allow us to operate more efficiently, reach new markets, and better identify and address risks,” said Taher Madraswala, President and CEO of Open-Silicon.


“Open-Silicon takes great pride in meeting and exceeding customer requirements and expectations for high quality and on-time delivery of silicon,” said Asim Salim, VP of Manufacturing Operations for Open-Silicon. “This requires exhaustive planning, implementation and control of both our internal and external quality processes, which continually monitor, measure, analyze and improve our ASIC design methodology and high-volume silicon manufacturing flows.”


The International Organization for Standards (ISO) is the largest standards organization in the world, with a network of standards institutes from 162 countries. The ISO 9001 is a set of procedures covering all key processes within a business and ensures that these processes are efficient, effective and are monitored consistently, allowing the company to continuously improve on its processes.



About Open-Silicon

Open-Silicon is a system-optimized ASIC solution provider that innovates at every stage of design to deliver fully tested IP, silicon and platforms. To learn more, please visit