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Services dip brings down quarterly revenue

Posted: 16 Sep 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cmos? sram? soc? fpga? fpaa?

Given the surging demand for embedded communications, the number of mixed-signal semiconductor devices is growing rapidly. These are devices that contain digital and analog circuitry and may include RF circuitry.

Mixed-signal SoCs accounted for approximately 20 percent of worldwide SoCs last year. This represents a doubling in just three years and that percentage is expected to rise to 75 percent over the next five years.

In a survey conducted by the Fabless Semiconductor Association (FSA) last year, more than 60 percent of companies planned to have analog and mixed-signal portions on their ICs in the upcoming year. In this year's FSA survey, mixed-signal products dominated the forecast and represented an estimated 40 percent of the wafers to be ordered.

Leading the pack

Last year, the chip sales in the Asia Pacific region reached a forecast of $67 billion, outpacing by $11 billion its nearest rival, North America, at $56 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. In short, the industry's leading-edge designs will have a mixture of complex digital and analog functions on the same chip and more of these chips will be manufactured in Asia than in any other region.

The need to incorporate more analog functions onto digital chips is causing a new set of requirements throughout the design chain. The shift to mixed-signal chips is seen in new developments in fabrication technology by pure-play foundries, which are gearing up to provide modules for adding analog, RF CMOS and SRAMs into their baseline logic processes. The shift also appears in new design "platforms" - specialized components from semiconductor companies for wired and wireless communications, as well as consumer products with rich audio and video features.

Leading semiconductor manufacturers report that the analog circuitry in mixed-signal SoCs uses just 2 percent of the total transistors but that circuitry represents 20 percent of the area, 40 percent of the design effort and 50 percent of the re-spins. Since analog areas are much more sensitive to implementation details and process variations than digital design, any critical analog circuitry tends to be a bottleneck for design, implementation, verification, and passing the design into manufacturing.

Deep impact

The current analog design practice of prototyping the performance of a design and re-spinning the silicon has been tolerable because devices have been fairly simple. When that same analog circuitry becomes part of an SoC, the entire chip needs to go through a re-spin and at very deep sub-micron processes, each re-spin might cost as much as a million dollars and add weeks to the time-to-market. What has been a relatively benign practice will now have a devastating effect on business in the new era.

EDA vendors are heeding the call. The convergence of A/D systems on chips is driving the introduction of a variety of innovative new technologies for designing electronic systems with mixed A/D content.

Design teams now have real options as to what logic they place into digital versus analog circuitry, so vendors are coming out with quantitative methods for helping to partition these designs. According to Cadence, the new mixed-signal design flow will include rich sets of mixed-signal behavioral models and tools for analog implementation, mixed-level simulation, constraint management, block assembly, and physical analysis.

Mixed-signal packaging must optimize total return over time, rather than just the return on a single design-in. Thus, design teams will need new tools for partitioning their digital, analog and RF functionality across multiple dies to enable attractive configurations for a range of end-use applications.

A notable development is the field-programmable analog array (FPAA), an industry-first architecture from Anadigm Inc. The analog equivalent of the digital FPGA, the FPAA allows complex analog signal conditioning and processing functions to be integrated in an off-the-shelf, pre-tested device. The FPAA is dynamically reconfigurable, for real-time control of analog functions in a range of applications such as communications, industrial, and medical electronics.

Rewards will go to companies that understand the impact that A/D convergence will have throughout the design chain.

- Rita Glover

Principal Industry Analyst

EDA Today L.C.

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