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Maxim Integrated - Integration Nation
Aaron Minor

Highly Integrated ICs: Who’s Running the Show?

Aaron Minor
Aaron Minor
Aaron Minor
2/25/2013 12:32:55 PM
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Re: supporting many apps or IC limitations??
By scaling technology we may even integrate a few more modules to make it generic, but in order to support more applications no. of pins will increase, involves rigorous testing (hence increase of cost)...

It's a balancing question; designing in potential flexibility is good up to a point, but the trick is in knowing what combinations of features customers are likely to want to use.

It's easier to design (and test and manufacture) one device that can be configured to act 5 different ways (for example, with different package pinouts) than it is to actually produce five different ICs.  But the customized ICs may be smaller and/or consume less power, since features may be actually removed, not just shut off.  It depends on the characteristics of the features in question.  If a feature on a part doesn't consume much in the way of area, power, or pins, it doesn't make much sense to remove it from a design as long as it isn't actively preventing something else the customer wants to do.  Pins are often multiplexed when possible at the I/O pad level, to enable unwanted features to be shut off and ignored so that they do not take up pins that can be used for something else.

 

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Aaron Minor
Aaron Minor
2/25/2013 12:24:55 PM
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Re: More tolerance for extraneous functionality
I have to wonder if these extraneous parts, and their associated cost/power losses/failure modes are less a concern now than in the past, to the point that it's almost a non-factor for most integrated analog designs. Only corner-case, totally optimized-in-one-direction (power? cost?) designs would consider it an issue, in the face of the benefits of integration.

It's a matter of degree.  If 90% of what is on the part meets a designer's needs, and the portion of the features that are not used by the application does not consume an inordinate amount of power, real estate or pins, the designer is more likely to say, 'well that's close enough for now at least'.

If half the features on a part are irrelevant to what the designer is trying to do, they are more likely to look elsewhere.

Large customers also have more flexibility in this regard, as they pull enough weight purchasing-wise to be able to say, "well we like part A, and we will use it for prototyping, but we would like a variation of this called A2, which takes out this thing we don't need, and adds a few things here and over there...", and thereby get the IC manufacturer to optimize an existing part for their particular design.

This represents much less of a committment for both sides as the customer can prove to themselves that their application will work with the existing part before ordering the new variant, and the manufacturer doesn't have to develop a part from scratch, just tweak one they already have.

 

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Aaron Minor
Aaron Minor
2/25/2013 12:18:47 PM
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Re: Customer specific design / EOL concerns
First, for any integrated part, do you think that the future risk of the part going EOL increases or decreaes from the past?  In the past, lower functional ICs and even passives could go EOL, requiring a re-design or at least re-verification to ensure a "drop in" replacement would work.  With an integrated part, a drop-in will be less likely, but do you think these parts will have longer life cycles from the manufactuers?

Just my personal opinion, as I am not directly involved in decisions about moving parts to a 'not recommended for new designs' sort of status...

I think the life cycle of any part will depend somewhat on how many customers are using it.  If it is a part that is tailored very specifically for one customer's needs, and the customer is still actively using it, that customer would naturally be consulted before developing a follow-on or replacement for that part.  But this part may have a shorter life cycle, because if the 'big customer' agrees that a change is ok, and that customer is buying 95% of the stock, then smaller customers that only buy a few may not be as involved in the decision making about the next version of the part.

If the part is more of a 'catalog design' or a more generic device that could conceivably be used for a number of different applications, then the life cycle will probably be longer.  Medical and industrial applications in particular tend to have long life spans, as devices in this category do not typically get replaced as frequently as consumer electronics.

The other question for you is what fraction of highly integrated parts come out of a specific customer need that is then "productized" and put into the general market, vs. parts designed by manufacturers based on their assessment of market needs?  I wonder if in the first case parts perform in certain ways that are less obvious when the generic data sheets are published and others than the original customer use them?

Hard to say; this is more of a company strategy question than a technology one, so this will vary from one IC manufacturer to the next.  Some products are produced largely to fill a specific customer's need; other products are produced with a certain kind of application or technology in mind, with the idea that many different customers would be able to use it.  Still other products are created to target existing products/features of parts that are already in the market, with the idea of replacing competitors' devices in existing design sockets.  If a device is popular enough, other companies will often attempt to produce their own pin-compatible version, if they think they can do the same thing but at less cost, with less power, etc.

 

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eafpres1
eafpres1
2/16/2013 3:37:36 PM
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Customer specific design / EOL concerns
Hi Aaron--you sparked a couple thoughts in my head reading your nice article.  First, for any integrated part, do you think that the future risk of the part going EOL increases or decreaes from the past?  In the past, lower functional ICs and even passives could go EOL, requiring a re-design or at least re-verification to ensure a "drop in" replacement would work.  With an integrated part, a drop-in will be less likely, but do you think these parts will have longer life cycles from the manufactuers?

The other question for you is what fraction of highly integrated parts come out of a specific customer need that is then "productized" and put into the general market, vs. parts designed by manufacturers based on their assessment of market needs?  I wonder if in the first case parts perform in certain ways that are less obvious when the generic data sheets are published and others than the original customer use them?

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patrick.mannion
patrick.mannion
2/16/2013 9:44:36 AM
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More tolerance for extraneous functionality
Hi @Aron, nice post! I see so much great innovation happening at the integration and power-management level, that when you say.

And if there are components to the microcontroller that support capabilities or interfaces that your design does not actually use, then those capabilities (and the additional cost and complexity in the microcontroller that they represent) are wasted in your system."

I have to wonder if these extraneous parts, and their associated cost/power losses/failure modes are less a concern now than in the past, to the point that it's almost a non-factor for most integrated analog designs. Only corner-case, totally optimized-in-one-direction (power? cost?) designs would consider it an issue, in the face of the benefits of integration.

Anyway, thanks for the overview, nicely done.

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amrutah
amrutah
2/16/2013 2:50:03 AM
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Master
supporting many apps or IC limitations??

@Aaron,

"Moving to an integrated "all-in-one" microcontroller means that you are limited to the combinations of features..."

  By scaling technology we may even integrate a few more modules to make it generic, but in order to support more applications no. of pins will increase, involves rigorous testing (hence increase of cost)...

  We will also have to consider the EM constraints when the feature size gets reduced...

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