Some IBM customers prefer the ASIC model, which is geared for those who want ''very complex chips'' with a time-to-market advantage, he said. IBM's ASIC offering makes use of the company's proprietary process, EDA tool methodology and yield management technology. The end result for customers is the development of finished package modules.
In the foundry model, IBM provides the process, SOI and other services upon request, but the customer is responsible for their own EDA tools and designs. The foundry option is a "higher-volume, lower-cost'' offering, as compared to the ASIC route, he said.
Going forward, Needler said SOI is set to take off in new applications. ''Soon, you will see it in networking and storage applications,'' he said. "We've seen interest in digital TV. We've seen people kick the tires in mobile applications. We would love to crack the graphics market.''
The market could get a boost, especially when Nvidia Corp. recently joined the SOI Industry Consortium. The consortium, formed in 2007, hopes to accelerate SOI technology in the market.
Other members include AMD, Applied Materials, ARM, Cadence, CEA-Leti, Chartered, Freescale, IBM, Innovative Silicon, KLA-Tencor, Lam, Magma, Samsung, Semico, Soitec, SEH Europe, STMicroelectronics, Synopsys, TSMC, Tyndall Institute, UCL and UMC.
VLSI Research Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) projected that the SOI market hit $654 million in 2007. The sector is expected to grow 11 percent a year and reach $1.1 billion by 2012, according to the firm.
Those projections could be far too optimistic, due in part to the current economic crisis. At present, the overall semiconductor industry is seeing a major slowdown, with a downturn projected in 2009.
IBM declined to comment on how the economic crisis would impact its new offering. But to help stimulate demand in a poor market, ARM rolled out an SOI physical IP library for IBM's service, including standard cells, memory and I/O.
IBM's offering, coupled with ARM's IP, provide customers with a strong one-two punch. The offering will enable ''more energy efficient'' designs, said Tom Lantzch, vice president of marketing for the ARM's physical IP division.
Besides processor cores and physical IP, ARM (Cambridge, England) is pushing hard in SOI. In 2006, ARM acquired Soisic SA, a developer of SOI IP. Soisic is a company associated with SOI wafer substrate supplier Soitec SA (Grenoble, France).
Last year, ARM's SOI libraries were taped-out on UMC's 65-nm SOI process. The test chip consists of a set of ARM physical IP that used a standard cell library, an I/O library and a single-port SRAM memory compiler.
At the time, ARM and UMC said the tape-out represented the next step towards the mainstream adoption of SOI technology for improved speed and power in complex designs. "We still have activities with UMC,'' Lantzch said. ''We're foundry agnostic.''
Also in the foundry world, Singapore's Chartered has been a ''second source'' to IBM on the SOI front. Chartered has made SOI-enabled game processors and other products since the 90-nm node, according to IBM.
Still to be seen, however, is if TSMC will re-enter the SOI market. At one time, the company had SOI on its foundry roadmap and it even started working with Freescale Semiconductor Inc. in the arena. But recently, Freescale moved to IBM's ''fab club'' camp, which all but ended its SOI alliance with TSMC.