Electronic Design

Choose The Right Partner For Your ASIC Life Cycle

According to Gartner Inc., the semiconductor industry achieved record revenue in 2005, and consumer ASICs (14% growth) and wireless ASICs (9% growth) played a significant role. But as the ASIC market continues to grow, ASIC designers face a mounting number of challenges, often requiring the assistance of strategic partners.

Time-to-market pressures keep increasing. Global supply-chain management is becoming a bigger problem. And, ASIC design complexities are getting more intense as advanced process technologies evolve. As you embark on your next design, you can choose to work with an integrated design manufacturer (IDM), a design services house, an aggregator that manages third-party relationships, or a foundry.

You need someone who understands your design requirements well enough to help you make the right decisions, provide the right expertise and advanced technologies to give you a competitive edge, reduce design risks, and improve your overall efficiency.

Only IDMs can meet these criteria and remain your partner throughout a product's life cycle. The IDM will take full ownership of any issue, whether it's in the design, fabrication, or assembly of the device. In addition, IDMs typically offer the broadest variety of device technologies and intellectual property (IP) solutions to meet your specific design requirements.

For applications requiring small die sizes and the highest levels of performance, the IDM may recommend a cell-based ASIC. For these designs, a broad range of advanced IP can be incorporated. The IDM can help you differentiate your design with IP options such as embedded DRAM, nonvolatile memory or CPUs, and interface technologies such as serializer/deserializer (SERDES), USB 2.0, advanced memory buffer, or PCI Express.

A qualified IDM will ensure that the IP can be incorporated easily into its process flow while reducing costs and time-to-market. With this type of highly complex ASIC, the IDM will work in step with you on how the product is designed and how it will be manufactured.

This enables you to leverage the IDM's deep understanding of advanced manufacturing capabilities up front to better optimize products that work the first time and have higher quality and reliability. As deep-submicron issues continue to arise, the IDM's indepth knowledge of the entire product life cycle can get it to market in the desired timeframe and with the desired performance.

If your application needs a high-performance, high-function ASIC that can be designed quickly with low development costs, a structured ASIC may be the best solution. In this technology, the IDM has incorporated features such as power grids and clock trees into predefined fabrication layers.

This enables you to use the customizable upper metal layers to meet the unique requirements of your design. Because of the IDM's up-front investments, structured ASICs deliver lower per-unit costs than FPGAs and faster turnaround times and lower nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs than cell-based ASICs. Another semi-custom approach is the gate array, which continues to be used in the communications, office automation, manufacturing, and consumer markets. As with structured ASICs, the IDM has done a lot of up-front work to deliver a master slice-type technology that helps get to market quickly while reducing costs.

For less complex ASIC designs, the IDM's value may be in its supply-chain management capabilities. If your distribution strategy requires worldwide design and manufacturing resources, then IDMs are typically best suited to delivering production-ready solutions in the geographic regions within your market window.

Finally, IDMs develop their own application-specific standard products (ASSPs), so they really understand the issues their ASIC customers face. A foundry-fabless IC company partnership can deliver good results, but it can never achieve the breadth of knowledge an IDM can acquire by developing its own ASSPs and translating that understanding into workable methodologies.

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