SANTA CLARA, Calif. Intel Corp. expanded the charter of its fabless ASIC business Monday (Nov. 18) by announcing the availability of third-party intellectual-property (IP) cores for system-on-chip (SoC) designs.
Intel's fabless ASIC unit Intel Microelectronics Services had been focusing on ASICs and ASSPs for wireline communications. But now, the ASIC unit has access to third-party cores for SoC designs, such as digital signal processors (DSPs), memory, and CISC and RISC processor cores, including IP from ARM Holdings plc.
To expand its IP portfolio, Intel's ASIC unit formally announced relationships with ARM, as well as 3DSP, Alcatel, ARC, GDA Technologies, Northwest Logic, Silicon Interfaces and Virage.
The IP will enable Intel to devise SoCs for a range of markets, such as consumer, computing, communications and others. "We've added to our product portfolio [in the ASIC business]," said Craig Peterson, co-general m anager of Intel Microelectronics. "The emphasis is on system-on-a-chip designs."
In addition, Intel Microelectronics is expanding its sales efforts by signing 28 third-party "rep firms" worldwide to market and sell its ASIC services, Peterson said. "We are also scaling our sales connections worldwide," he added in an interview with SBN at Intel's headquarters last week.
The moves represent the latest announcements by Intel's burgeoning fabless ASIC unit, which continues to move on a collision course with the traditional ASIC and/or SoC houses, such as Agere, Fujitsu, IBM, LSI Logic, NEC, STMicroelectronics, and others, according to analysts.
Peterson indicated that Intel's fabless and "open" ASIC business model has several advantages over its rivals. "There is a growing gap between what companies offer and what customers want," he said. "The gap is growing."
'Open' ASIC model
Last year, Intel launched the ASIC unit, which will provide fabless ASIC, global logistics, and other services. It also forged alliances with third-party EDA software, IP houses, and foundry and IC-packaging providers. Among Intel's partners in its so-called "Open Development Model" are Synopsys, Chartered, TSMC, UMC, Amkor, ASE and ChipPAC.
Unlike traditional ASIC houses, Intel insisted it would not use its own fabs. And the company had been primarily focused on the wireline-oriented communications ASIC/ASSP businesses at least until now. The ASIC unit is also set up to help Intel's own communications IC efforts.
Analysts said the jury is still out on the fabless ASIC model. But since Intel launched its ASIC unit, the company's total design starts have more than doubled over the last year, said Fred Cohen, director of marketing for Intel Microelectronics. "We've had a solid year of growth in a very, very tough environment," Cohen said.
In tel did not break out its ASIC sales thus far, but Cohen said that 58 percent of the unit's "projects" involve the communications market, 16 percent were each in consumer and avionics, and 5 percent were each in computer and test and measurement. And at the same time, some 69 percent of Intel's "projects" involved 0.18-micron technology, 25 percent used 0.13-micron, and only 5 percent were at 0.25-micron, he said.
While Intel will continue to develop ASICs for wireline applications, the company is aggressively expanding its efforts on the SoC front. "We've expanded the solution for SoC," he told SBN. "This extension of our IP addresses the SoC requirements for customers."
Analysts believe that Intel's ASIC unit may be expanding into SoC and for good reason: There is no sign of a recovery in communications, especially in wireline. And the shift to SoC is a natural extension to Intel's ASIC/ASSP efforts, analysts said.
More building blocks
Meanwhile, in a move to exp and its efforts, Intel's ASIC unit is offering customers new and advanced IP for SoC designs. Until now, the company offered three types of IP: foundation libraries (I/O, memory, and standard cells); core components (1394, PCI interfaces, PLLs, and USB); and specialty blocks (SerDes, SFI, SPI, XAUI, and XGMII).
Now, Intel has expanded the "core components" portion of the IP equation to include analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters, DDR SDRAM, PCI-X, and PCI Express. The new IP is provided by a number of vendors, according to Intel.
In addition, Intel now offers two more types of IP "building blocks," this time, to enable SoCs: advanced memories (CAMs, non-volatile, redundant, and 1T-SRAMs) and processor engines (DSP, CISC processors, and RISC processors).
A key to Intel's IP portfolio are 32-bit RISC processor cores from ARM of Cambridge, United Kingdom. "We have access to all ARM processor cores," Cohen said. Intel first became involved with ARM licensing when it acquired t he ARMv4-based StrongARM processor along with parts of Digital Equipment Corp. More recently, Intel put its own stamp on the architecture by evolving StrongARM into Xscale.
It also has access to configurable processor cores from ARC International plc as well as its initial DSP core from 3DSP Corp. Based in Irvine, Calif. 3DSP provides a configurable DSP for SoCs.