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De Geus: Downturn to change IC design

Posted: 05 Jun 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC design? EDA? verification?

As if the current downturn weren't tough enough, the semiconductor industry is also headed for increasing challenges from higher design costs and production at smaller geometries, according to Synopsys Inc. chairman and CEO Aart de Geus.

The cost of designs is going up because of increasing costs for embedded software development and verification, both of which will grow disproportionately fast, de Geus said in a presentation at the GSA & IET Semiconductor Forum.

But de Geus noted that every crisis presents its own opportunities and said that the current economic recession is no different.

"There have been fundamental shifts after any crisis," de Geus said. "Looking forward, we can predict that there will be some shifts after the current crisis as well."

Predicting a gradual recovery for the semiconductor industry, de Geus said most experts agree that there will be a kind of plateau at some 20 percent below 2007 revenue levels. After that, revenue will begin to rise gradually, he said, but will be subject to prevalent economic conditions.

"This is not a high-tech crisis, this is a global economic crisis," de Geus said.

De Geus said crises accelerate trends, with companies under stress driving changes, something he said is occurring now at every level. He joked that a good rule for management is to "never let go a good crisis unused."

He elaborated on the verification issue and associated costs. "I cannot overstate how big an issue this is," de Geus said. He added that the verification problem is growing in a completely non-linear way, similar to the way the complexity of issues such as power, timing closure and getting to tape-out began taking off 10 years ago.

Faster verification would be one of three items on a chip designer's wish list, according to de Geus. The others would be better integration between EDA tools and the adoption of complete, structured design flows, he said.

According to de Geus, crises also bring the necessity to differentiate from competitors. Companies under pressure will move to offer products more chiefly and sooner than competitors, he said. "And, by the way, not everything that is difficult leads to a differentiation," de Geus added.

After exhausting new options to lower prices, vendors will naturally assess other options, including exploration of new ideas to create products, de Geus said.

Once a company figures out a way to differentiate its products from others, everything becomes about time-to-market, de Geus said. This is where EDA tools can make the greatest impact since they greatly determine the speed of a design, de Geus said.

Citing a current example, de Geus said the intersection of the PC, netbook and phone is happening now and that there will be a sub-$100 netbook in China by this summer produced by a vendor who sees it as their chance to differentiate.

"There is no debatethis train already has left the station," de Geus said.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times Europe

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