Are you familiar with the folks at eSilicon? If not, you might want to bounce over to their website to take a look, because there's usually something interesting going on.
Let's suppose that you are a small design house and that you've got an idea for an incredibly new ASIC (for the purpose of these discussions, we'll take the term "ASIC" to encompass ASSP and SoC). You've captured the RTL for your design, but you simply don’t have the technical and financial resources to progress this design into a silicon prototype. What can you do?
Well, let's first consider the technical portion of the problem. The folks at eSilicon offer a range of custom memory IP (cache, CAM, SRAM, ROM, and MPRF) that allows you to optimize your design for performance, power, and area (PPA). Once you've told them the silicon process and technology node you wish to use, they can take your RTL and perform place-and-route and generate the physical (GDSII) version of the design for you. They can also perform DFT (design for test), generate a test program, bring back the first prototype, evaluate it with you and make any necessary changes, bring back the second prototype, perform characterization, and so forth. Eventually, they can take your chip into full production and run the production for you for the rest of the chip's natural life, including tasks like handling returns.
But what about the financial side of things? Creating a silicon chip these days can be horrendously expensive. One way around this is to use a Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) Shuttle Service. The idea is that the chips from a number of design teams are created on the same wafer, thereby allowing them to share the mask and wafer costs and produce affordable prototype designs in low quantities. In fact, MPWs can reduce prototype costs by up to 90 percent as compared to a full production mask and build.
All of which brings us to the fact that eSilicon has just launched a new, automated, instant, online quoting service for MPW Shuttle Services. Generating this sort of quote is not as easy as you might think (eSilicon says it's "a non-trivial endeavor"). It usually takes around a week (40 hours) to get an MPW quote set up. By comparison, using eSilicon's instant online system, which involves some ferociously clever software behind the GUI (graphical user interface), takes only around 15 minutes. All you have to do is answer a series of questions using pull-down menus, then the system generates all of the relevant outputs and agreements necessary for you to proceed.
eSilicon says that, even though it's only just now formally announcing this tool, the word has somehow got out, because the system has already been used by universities and customers to generate hundreds of quotes.
One of the great things about the guys and gals at eSilicon is their sense of corporate social responsibility. They honestly believe that the more they can do for the industry as a whole, the more good things will happen for everyone. They say that instead of going for obvious immediate profit, they would rather help remove artificial barriers to innovation. In this vein, anyone can use the instant online MPW quoting service for free, whether or not they intend to use eSilicon's implementation and realization services.
Personally, I've never been involved in the process of generating an MPW quote. Have you? If so, please share your experiences with us here by posting a comment below.