POCATELLO, Ida. -- Hoping to re-establish itself as an IC powerhouse, ASIC pioneer AMI Semiconductor Inc. (AMIS) here today launched the first in a series of 0.18-micron, hybrid gate-array devices geared for the FPGA-to-ASIC conversion and other chip markets. The new XPressArray ASIC line is designed to replace field-programmable gate arrays from Altera, Xilinx, and others, according to AMIS.
As part of the major product launch, AMIS also announced a silicon foundry alliance with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC). Under the terms, AMIS will utilize TSMC's 0.18-micron process technology to manufacturer at least a portion of its new ASIC line.
AMIS will take a two-step, hybrid manufacturing approach to fabricate the XPressArray chip line. First, the "front-end" or critical-layers of AMIS' new ASIC devices will be manufactured in a 0.18-micron process within TSMC's fabs. Then, the wafers will be transferred to AMIS, which will fabricate the"back-end" (interconnect) portions of the chips within AMIS' own 8-inch, 0.35-micron fab in Pocatello, the company said.
This unique, hybrid manufacturing process is designed to reduce product cycle times and non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs associated with ASICs and FPGAs by up to 70%, said Vince Hopkin, vice president of digital ASICs at AMIS.
"Featuring a proprietary device architecture that maximizes 0.18-micron technology, AMIS' ASICs based on the new hybrid technology offer higher densities, improved performance and lower power consumptions than FPGAs operating at the same voltage," Hopkin said. "The XPressArray devices meet the need for medium-density ASIC designs that have been priced out of the traditional cell-based market," he said.
The company's new product line also represents somewhat of a "new beginning" for AMIS. One of the early pioneers in the ASIC business, AMIS originally emerged in Santa Clara, Calif., in 1966. After succeeding in ASICs, the company was acquired in 1982 by Gould Inc., a U.S.-based computer systems and electronics conglomerate. In 1988, Gould and its chip subsidiary were bought by Japan Energy Corp. At that time, AMIS moved its headquarters form Silicon Valley to Pacatello.
However, under its new Japanese owners, AMIS--then called American Microsystems Inc.--got somewhat lost in the shuffle and become a low-profile player in the IC industry throughout most of the 1990s, according to analysts.
But in 2000, AMIS hoped to re-emerge after Japan Energy sold 80% of the chip company to a pair of U.S. investment firms--Francisco Partners and Citicorp Venture Capital (CVC). Last year, American Microsystems changed its name to AMI Semiconductor after the completion of the deal with Japan Energy
(see Jan. 2 story ).
The chip maker made big headlines in August 2001, when it named Christine King, formerly vice president of IBM Corp.'s Microelectronics Division, as its new president and CEO (see Aug. 31 story).
Going into 2002, King hopes to propel AMIS into a leadership position in the ASIC market, according to Hopkin. "King is pushing us to move faster than the competition," he said in an interview with SBN.
For some time, AMIS has focused on a few key markets: cell-based ASICs, gate-array devices, FPGA-to-ASIC conversion chips, mixed-signal ICs, and silicon foundry services.
In the foundry business, the company mainly builds chips, based on its patented mixed-signal process technology. Presently, it has two fabs, including separate 5-inch, 0.6-micron and 8-inch, 0.35-micron plants, both based in Pocatello.
AMIS also hopes to make a name for itself in ASICs, but the company is taking somewhat of a niche strategy in the arena. It is focusing on low- and mid-density ASIC devices with about five million gates and below, Hopkin said.
"Our chips support a lot of applications that range between a half-million to two million gates," Hopkin said. "We don't want to compete at the high-end against Texas Instruments, IBM, or any of those guys. Those companies are focused on system-on-a-chip products with 20 million gates," he added.
Until now, AMIS offered a range of ASIC devices and FPGA-to-ASIC conversation products, based on 0.35-micron technology. Now, with its new XPressArray line of 0.18-micron devices, the company will compete more aggressively in the standalone ASIC market, as well as the ASIC-to-ASIC and FPGA-to-ASIC conversions segments.
The new XPressArray devices are said to be drop-in replacements for several 1.8-volt FPGA lines in the marketplace, including Xilinx' Virtex-E devices, Altera's APEX-E chips, and others, according to AMIS. This, in turn, will cut costs for system manufacturers in the automotive, communications, computing, and consumer markets, the company claims.
"FPGAs are expensive when you begin to ship them in volumes," Hopkin said. "FPGAs are 50% to three times more expensive than ASICs," he said. For years, Altera, Xilinx and others have disputed those assertions, claiming ASICs are more expensive than FPGAs.
Operating with system clock speeds of up to 350-MHz, AMIS' XPressArray line of gate-array devices have densities of up to 2.6 million gates. The ASIC line also offers up to 200 million internal registers and between 31,000 and 1.4 million bits of embedded configurable memory.
The devices are compatible with 1.8-, 2.5-, 3.3- and 5.0-Volt I/O schemes. They also support a wide variety of I/O standard, such as LVTTL, LVCMOS, PCI, HSTL, SSTL, GTL/+, LVPECL, LVDS and BLVDS. Its clock management circuitry includes options for up to 12 all digital delay-locked loops (DLLs) and a maximum of four phase-locked loops (PLLs). Embedded scan test logic is included in the devices to facilitate high fault coverage testing.
Rapid access to the XPressArray hybrid gate array technology can be achieved using the AMIS' EDA tools, dubbed the Netrans FPGA-to-ASIC conversion methodology. In addition, XPressArray synthesis libraries are available from Synplicity, Synopsys, and others.
AMIS has begun shipping its XpressArray products to customers. Prices depend upon the configuration and gate counts.