Having staked out the I/O corner of the intellectual-property market, Phoenix Technologies Ltd. is now anchoring its position by offering customers a shortcut to system-on-a-chip integration through its newly minted subsidiary, inSilicon Corp.
The subsidiary, formerly known as Phoenix's Silicon IP Group, today will unveil an architecture to enable Lego-style assembly of multiple peripheral cores by reusing hardware and firmware interfaces that are common to all. Drawing its strength from the industry-defined Virtual Component Interface 2.0 specification, TymeWare enables SOC designers to create I/O subsystems from any VCI-based peripherals.
inSilicon said the VCI 2.0 spec, expected to be released later this month, will become a cornerstone of the developing SOC market by simplifying the integration of IP cores. Indeed, the weight of the trillion-dollar electronic-equipment market rests solely on the merchant-IP sector, according to San Jose-bas ed Dataquest Inc.
While direct IP revenue-projected to reach $182 million this year-is a mere 1% of the semiconductor sector, "without the IP market, the whole pyramid would fall apart," said Dataquest analyst Jordan Selburn.
inSilicon offers a menu of standards-based communications and bus-interface IP supporting 10/100 Ethernet, USB, PCI, IrDA, and 1394, as well as emerging network standards. And customers are increasingly integrating two or more of these protocols into systems such as digital set-top boxes and digital subscriber-line modems, said Robert Nalesnik, vice president of marketing at inSilicon, San Jose.
In the past, each IP required development of a separate software driver and bus interface. The TymeWare architecture cuts integration time in half by leveraging commonalities of each interface, Nalesnik said.
"For any given design, you would have to build a custom interface anyway; but once you've built it, you've created this reusable piece of IP," he said. "Now, with a similar amount or less work than you did before, you get the flexibility of being able to architect new products in a modular fashion."
The silicon overhead-about 700 gates per IP block-is a little more than a custom interface requires, while performance is about the same, Nalesnik added.
A key attribute of TymeWare is its distributed-DMA approach, which plugs a single-channel DMA controller into each protocol. By leveraging a common set of driver registers instead of one multichannel DMA, firmware development is simpler and system performance improves, the company said.
The configurable SmartBridge then leverages standard CPU interfaces-including ARM, MIPS, and PowerPC-to connect the I/O system to the system bus.
Finally, inSilicon has launched a Web-based "test drive" capability that allows designers to download an encrypted IP file for evaluation. The company's VCI-compliant USB and PCI cores are available now, with the remainder of TymeWare products slated to ship next quarter.