magma-design.jpgThe chip design automation space has a clear pattern. Start-ups create a new tool to help deal with the increasingly complex process of designing semiconductors. They get some traction with the chip makers and then one of the big design automation companies acquires the start-up.

It’s playing out again as Magma Design Automation announced today that it is acquiring Sabio Labs, which has an analog IP process migration technology. The purchase price is $17.5 million, plus up to $7.5 million more based on contingencies, according to an SEC filing.

This deal means Sabio can take a design for an analog chip which is being manufactured in one factory and then modify the design so that it can be made in another factory without a hitch. It can also take a design for a previous generation of manufacturing, such as 130-nanometers, and automatically move that design to a newer manufacturing process such as 90-nm.

That saves a lot of mundane manual design by analog chip design experts, said Ashutosh Mauskar, vice president of business development at Magma’s Custom Design Business unit. Sabio is a nine-person company based in Mountain View. It was founded by a couple of Stanford doctorates who previously worked at Barcelona Design. Barcelona was an ambitious effort to automate analog design. While digital designs are easily automated, analog design, which handles signals in wave forms instead of ones and zeroes, is much harder to automate. Barcelona was ultimately unsucessful at its goal. But the ideas have lived on.

Magma will incorporate this technology into the Magma Titan Mixed-Signal Design Platform, so that the migration capability is built into the original analog chip design tool. Sabio’s approach means that designs for analog chips will more re-usable. It should do away with the need to run a boatload of simulations testing every single version of a design. Sabio’s announced customers include Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Besides Magma, the other potential acquirers in this space are usually Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys. Mauskar says the new product line will position Magma against Cadence, while Synopsys doesn’t yet have a presence in this sub-market.

Sabio’s investors included Amidzad and Sun Microsystems luminary Andy Bechtolsheim.

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