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    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Pushing The Envelope : Mobile/Wireless Design And The Advancement Of ASIC Design

    At a high level, the metric space for an ASIC design consists of:

    • Performance (Timing)
    • Area
    • Power
    • Effort
    • Schedule
    • Unit cost
    Depending on the application of the end device, each ASIC project has important metrics and some not-so-important metrics driven by the business concerned. Every ASIC design is sitting somewhere in the n-metric space as per the importance of each metric. For example:
    • Supercomputer applications : Performance is everything. The nature of the business (low volume, high margins, controlled device environment) is such that the other metrics don't really matter (within (relaxed) limits).
    • Desktop Processors : High performance and unit cost matter. Schedule and effort are very high (think of the teams to spend a year or two doing nothing else but designing the next-generation desktop processor) but that's ok because, with a low unit cost and high volumes, the business will still generate a profit.
    • Memories : Area and unit cost matter. The objective is to create the densest memories possible such that you can hit a performance standard at the least unit cost possible.
    In contrast to the above, consider the driving forces of the mobile and wireless business:
    • Short product cycles
    • High volumes
    • Cost-driven business
    • Power-sensitive
    • High performance
    • Smaller/slimmer mobile devices
    • Increasing functionality (multiple interfaces(Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, SD), on-device memory ..)
    Here's what the metrics look like for the space:
    • Performance : high performance (increasing functionality)
    • Area : ultra-low area (smaller die, smaller footprint)
    • Power : ultra-low power (very power-sensitive)
    • Effort : Low effort (small teams, fast turnaround time)
    • Schedule: Very short (shrinking product cycles, market windows)
    • Unit Cost : Very low (high volume, low margins)
    The mobile/wireless space works to satisfy almost impossible (and conflicting) requirements. There is no slack on any front. This is a good thing. The effect of the all-round pressure is that the techniques and methodologies used in the mobile/wireless space are required to push the state-of-the-art all the time and in all directions. Sophisticated power management, advanced mixed signal design, high-yield techniques, the list goes on and on.

    Performance-driven businesses (supercomputers, processors) usually receive the largest mindshare but it is mobile/wireless design that has been (and will be) quietly advancing ASIC design on all fronts.

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