Electronic Design

IC Suppliers Must Add "Lower Power" To The "Smaller, Faster, Cheaper" Mantra

"Smaller, faster, cheaper" has been the traditional IC market refrain. But recently, the tune has changed. Today's chips are adequately small and fast for many electronic systems, even though they may never be cheap enough for purchasing managers or consumers.

Yet as a direct and indirect factor impacting system cost, performance, and usability, power consumption has emerged as one of the major challenges surrounding the design and use of core silicon—application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), application-specific standard products (ASSPs), and programmable logic devices (PLDs).

Demand for low-power core silicon already is huge, and it's expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. The market for low-power core silicon, or chips whose power consumption is either somewhat important or a critical factor, represents an estimated 60% of the overall core-silicon segment. This amounted to more than $60 billion in 2003 and will top $110 billion in 2008.

Improvements in semiconductor manufacturing process technology have reduced power usage. But some of these same innovations have increased power consumption, particularly in terms of static power consumption.

Despite efforts ranging from innovative silicon architectures to new design-automation methodologies, increasing levels of integration have ensured that any small power-consumption problem will be multiplied by hundreds of millions of times in the final chip.

Failure to address this problem means many systems will be stuck at close to the current levels of functionality until the power issue is resolved. On the other hand, innovative low-power solutions will gain market share and potentially expand the market beyond this forecast.

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