In the Electronics and software treadmill world practitioners are constantly having to re-skill themselves to keep up with solutions that make sense in size, power and cost. Software has 'bitrot' where things stop working properly if they are not maintained; while hardware designs should keep on chugging away once made, they may not remain manufacturable for long with components going obsolete and even if the components are available, hardware designs don't stay competitive for long with the constant cycles of improvement in silicon. Generally small design companies are pretty much as empowered as the very large companies in terms of designing and using the latest stuff. But currently there are two major and important technologies in hardware terms that are out of the reach of small design companies. First is BGA (Ball Grid Array) packaging. Instead of legs sticking out of plastic shells, BGA has an array of solder balls on the underside of the package. The PCB has exposed metal pads under each ball; the BGA is placed on top and heated slowly according to a temperature profile. The solder balls melt and firmly attach all the connections through to the PCB pads. The problems with BGA start with the PCB design, many BGA pinouts are far too dense to allow automated routing without taking up a crazy number of layers. Modern BGA chips have solder balls on a 0.5mm pitch(!) which further demands the expense of laser-cut vias. PCB autorouters which are perfectly fine for PQFP or other pin-based technologies make a miserable job of BGAs and they can need to be fanned out (to get the signals spread out from the pads) by hand. Small design companies are typically making their own prototypes, but this is no longer possible either with BGA, since everything is on the underside of the device. Instead an outside contractor must be used to place the BGAs on the PCB with an infra-red oven, and the result has to be inspected too with technology that is beyond a small company, using X-Rays to see through the chip and to confirm that all of the solder balls are melted and making contact. The problem is that the most modern and desirable technologies are starting to appear ONLY in BGA form. Unless a designer can specify world-class technologies available to his customers' competitors, clearly he is at a disadvantage. So moving out of the pin-based ghetto into the BGA world is a major and growing concern here. The second issue surrounds the problems of high-speed transmission-line based technology found for example in using DDR DRAM. There are a bunch of stringent design rules surrounding DDR, the most difficult of which is length matching 70 or more nets. Basically all the signals should arrive at the same time to the chip, this means ensuring that they all travel about the same distance on the PCB. If you look at a modern motherboard, you will see some tracks perform strange "squiggles": they are doing to to add length to themselves so they match the length of a signal that had to travel further. Trying to do this for 70 or more nets in a small region, where each change can impact the length of other nets is... nontrivial ... and completely beyond the midrange autorouters available to small companies. Higher-end autorouters like Cadence Specctra are capable of automating this task, but run to GBP30,000, and demand a king's ransom to keep the updates coming. Failure to maintain a sufficiently tight relationship between the lengths, or to keep signal quality to the necessary level for other reasons, will result in a design that can't operate at the intended frequency or is flaky at any speed. A related problem is being even able to look at signals operating at these high speeds due to bandwidth restrictions on midrange oscilloscopes. These problems are for the future: currently we master 90MHz SDRAM bussing and 180MHz ARM9 CPU technology on 4-layer which is more than sufficient for many of today's and tomorrow's designs. But the very high end of today's needs is demanding the ability to attack BGA and DDR and investing in it is going to have to be on the agenda in the coming months.