SANTA CLARA, Calif. Two user panelists called for better-quality silicon intellectual property (IP), and for better support, at a business forum at the IP/SoC conference March 19. The users were part of a "Build Versus Buy" panel that preceded a keynote speech by Eric Chen, senior analyst at J.P. Morgan H&Q.
Panelist Satya Simha, hardware manager for the information appliances group at Sun Microsystems Inc., said his group uses both internal and external IP. He said his group has purchased six IP blocks, mostly standard bus interfaces, from third-party suppliers.
Panelist Vig Sherrill, president and chief executive of design services firm ASIC International, noted that his company doesn't literally purchase IP, but it integrates a broad variety of IP, including processors and standard bus interfaces, for system-on-chip (SoC) customers.
The biggest challenge in us ing externally purchased IP, said Simha, is ensuring the quality of the IP block. "When a vendor is selling IP, it's pretty much supposed to work bug-free," he said. But that's not always the case, Simha noted. "In some cases we have found that quality does not meet expectations, or if bugs are found, they're not incorporated into the vendor's database."
Sherrill stressed that IP is not "shrink-wrapped" and must be backed by strong support. "If you're buying IP, and the people associated with it support it, then you get what you pay for," he said. "If it's just handed over, like a traditional EDA tool, there's no value." Moreover, Sherrill said, IP has no "shelf life" without support.
"If there are people you can call after 5 p.m., it makes a big difference in getting stuff out," Sherrill added.
Simha said that IP repositories are needed, but the big challenge is getting the right information from the IP vendors. That includes specifications, limitations and known bugs, he noted.
"I think a lot of IP is developed by Verilog writers who don't tape out chips," Simha said. "IP vendors should provide spec sheets telling us how it works. The more they tell us, the more specs they give us, the more worthwhile it becomes to buy."
Simha said that his designers are unhappy with encrypted IP. "We can't see what the IP is doing," he said. "It takes too much time to go back to the IP vendor."
Sherrill spoke of the problems posed by verification. "It's an absolute nightmare," he said. "It's really hard. We don't trust anything we get we verify the hell out of everything."
Still, despite all the problems, both panelists felt that externally purchased IP can provide a real advantage, if quality and support demands are met. "If after tapeout the IP works well, it's worth it. It saves us time if we don't have to design from scratch," Simha said.