MILPITAS, Calif. - Is the handwriting on the wall for long-time ASIC suppliers, like LSI Logic Corp. and the rest?
During recent conferences and in a wave of product launches, the demise of application-specific ICs has been bandied about by startups and other promoting a rapid shift from customized ASICs to a new breed of programmable network processors.
"ASICs will continue to be an important design set, but for a smaller and smaller customer base," said Chuck Fox, president and chief executive of Chameleon Systems Inc. The San Jose-based startup is a supplier of field-programmable communications processors. "ASICs will continue to experience a slow and painful death," predicted Fox during his keynote address at the Network Processor Forum several months ago (see June 14 story).
But the death of the ASIC has been greatly exaggerated, quipped Wilfred Corrigan, chairman and chief executive officer of LSI Logic. The Milpitas-based company not only pioneered application-specific ICs, such as gate arrays, in the 1980s, but it now claims to be the world's largest supplier of ASICs, including standard cell-based designs and mask-programmable gate-array products.
"You will always have an ebb and flow between ASICs and standard products in the market," Corrigan observed. "But if you look at where the market is going, you have to go with ASICs, because of cost," said Corrigan in an interview at the company's headquarters.
But several chip makers are attempting to displace ASICs, including aggressive vendors of network processors. In addition, suppliers of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), including the segment's leaders--Altera Corp. and Xilinx Inc., both of San Jose--are stepping up their efforts to unseat semicustom ASICs with so-called "standard FPGA" products.
But LSI Logic doesn't believe it is really competing against FPGAs, and it believes ASIC provide a better solution in most system designs. The ASIC and FPGA markets "rarely collide," said W. Richard Marz, executive vice president of ASIC technology at LSI Logic.
"I believe there is a gap between FPGAs and ASICs," he said. "The FPGA vendors are developing parts with 20,000-to-50,000 gates. We're developing two-, three-, five-million gate products," Marz said.
"The ASIC is not dead," insisted Ronnie Vasishta, vice president of technology market for LSI Logic. "They are still alive and well," he said, and 20-year-old LSI Logic is determined to keep it that way (see today's strategy profile).