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Outsource the interconnect

Posted: 01 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:outsource interconnect? software system-level differentiation? OEM design challenge? Phil Casini? Sonics?

Casini: Outsourcing the SoC interconnect design is a direct, straightforward measure to significantly reduce the impact of the OEM software-shift phenomenon on the semiconductor industry.

Wireless communication use and digital content consumption have increased, creating new opportunities and system design challenges for OEMs. In these systems, a key design challenge revolves around how designers can continue to integrate more system functions and yet maintain affordability and acceptable ergonomics for mass markets.

The new OEM design challenges create a new set of dynamics for the semiconductor industry. Heterogeneous multiprocessing on a chip becomes the new architecture standard for performance SoC design, replacing single embedded-processor implementations of earlier SoCs. This transition might seem straightforward. Instead of hosting one embedded processor, many types of processing elements are now on the chip.

But heterogeneous multiprocessing ushers in a new phenomenon that will significantly change the way OEMs use SoCsit's system-level differentiation shifting from hardware to software. Because of the complex nature of processing video, voice and data, SoC developers are increasingly relying on outsourced processing elements and other intellectual properties to meet time-to-market and price-point demands. Thus, as system functions consolidate onto a single device powered by processing elements readily available to anyone, OEMs will find it increasingly difficult to differentiate in hardware. Algorithmic and system-level software differentiation gives the OEM more opportunity to win.

The shift to software differentiation results in the need for SoCs supporting high degrees of flexibility so that OEMs can differentiate their products. To achieve this flexibility, SoC developers are now shifting the priority and focus on how data is moved to, from and within a chip. This is the responsibility of the on-chip SoC interconnect buses. Data flows are essential in keeping the processing elements on the chip optimally fed so that they can perform at their peak and with the correct conditional access at the user level. Those interconnect fabrics form the foundation for OEM differentiation via software.

As a result, the complexities of SoC data-flow management have gone up exponentially, and the task of architecting and maintaining an interconnect strategy has become expensive. Constant downward pressure on chip prices and shortening chip life cycles have raised this question for SoC development projects: How can more design complexity be absorbed and produce flexible chips rapidly and cost-effectively with sufficient return-on-investment for the company?

The answer is to outsource the interconnect design. It no longer matters whether an in-house team can engineer an interconnect solution given enough time and money. Just as it makes no sense to build an embedded processor today, the costs of developing and maintaining an interconnect architecture in-house are too high.

Proven third-party interconnect solutions are available, providing the necessary interconnect advanced fabric features and data-flow services to manage the increase in interconnect complexity. Besides interconnect, available tools enable SoC developers to model data flows and create management schemes before the chip is developed. Thus, it removes the interconnect design from the critical path of the SoC development cycle and reduces schedule risk. Late market-requirement changes and product family development can also be better accommodated by understanding the scope of the interconnect architecture before SoCs are actually developed.

Outsourcing the SoC interconnect design is a direct, straightforward measure to significantly reduce the impact of the OEM software-shift phenomenon on the semiconductor industry. The economics have been proven by market-leading semiconductor companies that have already outsourced their interconnect needs and achieved their business goals. They are realizing the compounding benefits associated with outsourcing the interconnect.

- Phil Casini
VP of Marketing and Business Development, Sonics Inc.

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