SAN FRANCISCO—A design methodology based largely on intellectual property (IP) reuse employing minimal new design work to add proprietary value is being used by chip firms to create high-end system-on-chips (SoCs) with significantly lower costs, according to veteran EDA analyst Gary Smith.
In his annual address preceding the Design Automation Conference (DAC) here Sunday, Smith, chief analyst at Gary Smith EDA, said the methodology, which he calls multi-platform based design methodology, uses previously developed software, UP which includes verification suites and significantly fewer IP blocks than typical large designs in recent years.
"This is where you are going to see an explosion in system level design," Smith said.
Smith said last year in his pre-DAC address that the cost to design the average high-end mobile SoC had grown to $75.1 million. But after DAC, three companies—which Smith declined to identify—contacted him and said they designed high-end mobile SoCs for under $40 million using the multi-platform based design methodology. This revelation, Smith said, caused he and his fellow analysts at Gary Smith EDA to discover that some firms are using this methodology, which cuts the new design portion of an SoC to 10 to 15 percent and can lower design costs by as much as 40 percent.
Stitching together SoCs largely from proven IP blocks and then adding new design work to add competitive differentiation has long been the dream of "plug and play" IP advocates, but had mostly failed to come to fruition previously for a host of reasons. According to Smith, the difference now is that the IP blocks in use are much larger—sometimes more than 100 million gates—enabling designs to be cobbled together from fewer IP blocks and less proprietary design work. Smith said that using five IP blocks is ideal, but that in reality even successful multi-platform based design SoCs involved 25 to 30 IP blocks. But many of today's designs call for more than 100 IP blocks, he said.
"The world really changed in 2011," Smith said.
Smith's definition of multi-platform based design includes integration of exiting platforms with newly designed application platforms that add competitive advantage. The platforms include the functional platform—a third-party IP that defines the base of the SoC and the core of the design; the foundation platform—also typically provided by a third party, mostly focused on mobile and consumer electronics markets, and an application platform, usually an in-house design that provides competitive advantage.
As an example, Sharon Tan, an analyst with Smith's firm, cited carmaker Audi's use of an Nvidia Corp. Tegra 3, built on the ARM Cortex-A9, plus platform applications created by Audi. Tan said Texas Instruments Inc.'s OMAP and Qualcomm Inc.'s were also examples of foundation platforms. The functional and foundation platforms determine 75 to 90 percent of the Snapdragon gates of a multi-platform based design, Tan said.
According to Tan, the first company with the right applications platforms in a particular market has a considerable substantial advantage. "It's hard to play catch up," she said.
Smith said the EDA market is expected to grow about 13 percent this year, reaching $5.6 billion, up from about $5 billion in 2011. The firm expects EDA to continue growing to reach $7.2 billion in 2016.
"I think we are going for good times," Smith said.