No semiconductor company today can design everything it needs on time and within budget for complex system-on-chip (SoC) designs. By providing a standard architecture, processor IP companies enable customers to focus on differentiating their end product. With the shared R&D costs inherent in a strong, licensable intellectual-property model, companies can achieve a 10x cost savings compared with internal development. This ultimately accelerates time-to-market, since it can take years to develop a robust processor architectureand the success of a product often depends on being first to market.
As end products get smaller, designers are now increasingly integrating analog and mixed-signal functionality onto SoCs. While many semiconductor companies traditionally relied on internal analog engineering teams, these teams face new challenges and higher development costs as analog implementations become more difficult at 65 nm and below. Many companies must limit their technology options, because they can't convert their analog cores into their choice technology fast enoughresulting in suboptimal options for large, expensive chips, and increased costs.
Few, if any, SoC companies currently differentiate through analog components. More often, they differentiate through software, integration and fast time-to-market. For these reasons, and since analog connectivity and formats are defined by standards, analog has become a natural progression for IP and is now being increasingly outsourced, in the form of RF front ends, HDMI and USB connectivity, audio and interfaces. In fact, analog/mixed-signal IP is the fastest-growing segment of the semiconductor IP market today, and this momentum will continue as fabless companies and IDMs increasingly embrace the value of third-party analog IP.
Ultimately, it's not just processors that power IP in semiconductor design. A successful IP model provides a robust ecosystem of software development tools, hardware tools and real-time operating systems that support the IP. Additionally, designers need integration support, since mixed-signal designs can be difficult to integrate and there is a finite pool of internal resources to draw from. Analog IP suppliers must support design teams' lack of in-house integration expertise and guide them throughout the entire design cycle to ensure and expedite successful silicon results. It has become a powerful proposition for customers to have access to processor and analog IP, as well as software development and debug tools, all from a single supplier.
Ten years after the birth of the semiconductor design IP industry, licensable IP is playing an ever larger and more pivotal role in the world of semiconductor development and design, enabling accelerated time-to-market, increased power efficiencies and tighter form factors.
In 1998, MIPS Technologies emerged as a public company. To date, there are nearly 1,000 MIPS-based designs integrated into tens of millions of devices shipped worldwide. And while the number of design starts today is far fewer than in 1998, the complexity of designs continues to increase exponentially, requiring innovative, performance-driven and cost-sensitive design options for semiconductor companies. Analog IP has also emerged as a major growth area and is becoming a significant revenue generator, with more than $300 million of analog IP sold in 2006.
About the author
John Bourgoin is president and CEO of MIPS Technologies. He has more than 30 years of semiconductor experience at MIPS, AMD and Motorola Semiconductor. Burgoin holds a BSEE from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Arizona State University.