PHOENIX--Microprocessor design cores downloaded for free from the Internet won't make it into the mainstream semiconductor market, predicted an LSI Logic Corp. vice president during an industry forecasting conference here.
"You need software, test plans, interfaces, and a MPU core that has been designed from the very beginning to work with all other cores on the chip," declared John Danne, executive vice president at LSI Logic, during a session at the Semico Summit Conference on Monday.
One of the themes at the conference, sponsored by Semico Research Inc. of Phoenix, was the rapid change in the chip industry due to the spread of intellectual property (IP) design cores for system-on-chip ICs and "freeware."
During the conference, a panel of experts and executives questioned the quality of the free processor cores available on the Internet. LSI Logic's Danne maintained that many of the free designs lacked verification. He added that many vendors offering IP over the Internet are hoping users will download cores and cover the investments needed to validate them in SoC designs.
"I don't see this effort going anywhere," said the executive at Milpitas, Calif.-based LSI Logic.
Synopsys Inc. chairman and CEO Aart de Geus said there are many well-established MPU cores available in industry "that find their way into IC designs without any problems." He added that "the free 32-bit microprocessor cores may have some value, but the developers will have to guarantee their work." He suggested that may prove difficult.
LSI Logic's Daane said the proprietary lock on many commercial core designs is a major barrier for system-on-a-chip ICs. "Patented IP cores for the same function from different companies can't be used interchangeably," he argued. "This is one of the fundamental barriers to having large libraries of cores on the Internet. In many cases, LSI Logic has had to develop its own IP cores to be able to have designs that can be interchangeably on various system chips."
While Internet-available processor cores were questioned, one manager from ServerWorks Inc. said "freeware" server software was a major factor in causing the explosive growth of hosting and Web-page servers. Kimball Brown, vice president of business development for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, said this segment of the server market are thriving because of free application software available to users off the Internet. He said thriving companies pursuing this approach include Inktomi, CacheFlow, Colbalt, Network Appliance, FreeGate, and others.
Brown insisted that freeware is cutting the cost of software drastically for the Web-based servers--one of the major reasons making this server segment the fastest growing portion of the market. He said traditional software application costs for servers could be several times more expensive than the hardware cost. He asserted that freeware has flipped this cost factor around so software now is cheaper than hardware, spurring users to add new Web-based servers "at a phenomenal pace."