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ASIC

What is ASIC?
An application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), is an integrated circuit (IC) customized for a particular use, rather than intended for general-purpose use. For example, a chip designed to run in a digital voice recorder is an ASIC. Application-specific standard products (ASSPs) are intermediate between ASICs and industry standard integrated circuits like the 7400 or the 4000 series. Asic is part of MEMS Gyroscope sensor.

As feature sizes have shrunk and design tools improved over the years, the maximum complexity (and hence functionality) possible in an ASIC has grown from 5,000 gates to over 100 million. Modern ASICs often include entire microprocessors, memory blocks including ROM, RAM, EEPROM, flash memory and other large building blocks. Such an ASIC is often termed a SoC (system-on-chip). Designers of digital ASICs use a hardware description language (HDL), such as Verilog or VHDL, to describe the functionality of ASICs.

Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) are the modern-day technology for building a breadboard or prototype from standard parts; programmable logic blocks and programmable interconnects allow the same FPGA to be used in many different applications. For smaller designs and/or lower production volumes, FPGAs may be more cost effective than an ASIC design even in production. The non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost of an ASIC can run into the millions of dollars.

Introduction

  • Cell libraries, IP-based design, hard and soft macros
    Cell libraries of logical primitives are usually provided by the device manufacturer as part of the service. Although they will incur no additional cost, their release will be covered by the terms of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and they will be regarded as intellectual property by the manufacturer. Usually their physical design will be pre-defined so they could be termed "hard macros".

    What most engineers understand as "intellectual property" are IP cores, designs purchased from a third-party as sub-components of a larger ASIC. They may be provided as an HDL description (often termed a "soft macro"), or as a fully routed design that could be printed directly onto an ASICs mask (often termed a hard macro). Many organizations now sell such pre-designed cores — CPUs, Ethernet, USB or telephone interfaces — and larger organizations may have an entire department or division to produce cores for the rest of the organization. Indeed, the wide range of functions now available is a result of the phenomenal improvement in electronics in the late 1990s and early 2000s; as a core takes a lot of time and investment to create, its re-use and further development cuts product cycle times dramatically and creates better products. Additionally, organizations such as OpenCores are collecting free IP cores, paralleling the open source software movement in hardware design.

    Soft macros are often process-independent, i.e., they can be fabricated on a wide range of manufacturing processes and different manufacturers. Hard macros are process-limited and usually further design effort must be invested to migrate (port) to a different process or manufacturer.

  • Multi-project wafers
    Some manufacturers offer multi-project wafers (MPW) as a method of obtaining low cost prototypes. Often called shuttles, these MPW, containing several designs, run at regular, scheduled intervals on a "cut and go" basis, usually with very little liability on the part of the manufacturer. The contract involves the assembly and packaging of a handful of devices. The service usually involves the supply of a physical design data base i.e. masking information or Pattern Generation (PG) tape. The manufacturer is often referred to as a "silicon foundry" due to the low involvement it has in the process.

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