System on chip (SoC) design costs are out of control and
headed towards $100 million, but there's relief in sight, according to analyst
Gary Smith at a Sunday presentation before the Design
Automation Conference (June 14-18). In most respects Gary's speech, titled "Don't Panic! SoC Costs
Will Come Down," tracked very well with key points raised in chapter 1 of the recent EDA360 vision paper.
"The latest doom and gloom for the electronic industry is
that design costs are out of control," Gary
said. "And costs are out of control primarily in software." According to the
International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), he noted, it will
cost $100 million to build an "average high-end SoC" by 2011. By 2012, Gary said, SoC software is
projected to be a "$79 million problem." One consequence is that semiconductor
startups will find it very difficult to get VC funding.
then talked about "power users" (11 percent of seats) versus "upper
mainstream," "lower mainstream," and "late adopter" users. Power users include
companies like IBM, Intel, NVidia, and Qualcomm. They use the latest tools and
process nodes. Upper mainstream users lag behind by 1-2 nodes and don't use the
latest tools. Consequently, to achieve the same design, a power user will
typically spend $10 million less than
an upper mainstream user.
So far Gary's
talk mirrored closely the first chapter of the EDA360 paper, which notes the
upcoming $100 million SoC development costs, describes the explosive cost of
software development, and talks about how EDA serves design "creators" much
better than "integrators." Gary
uses different terminology, but I think of the power users as primarily
"creators" and the upper mainstream users as primarily "integrators."
then expressed the view that mainstream users will either move up to become
power users, or will drop out of design implementation altogether and buy only
ESL tools. I would put things in slightly different terms. If we can
better serve integrators through environments like the Open Integration
Platform described in the EDA360 paper, then the upper mainstream (at least those who are primarily
integrators) will be more empowered to build SoCs and may well buy a variety of EDA tools. In contrast to the "implementation" tools aimed at creators, these tools will focus more
specifically at solving problems related to IP integration and cost/power/package
So how to fix the design cost problem? If we can get the
cost down to $50M, Gary
said, we can afford to do high-volume designs. If we can get it to $25M, better
yet. In the near term, Gary
said, virtual prototypes offer the most promise for cutting SoC design costs.
This includes not only those used for software development, but a technology Gary calls the "silicon
virtual prototype" that will enable RTL handoff, allowing "the resurrection of
the ASIC business model."
"We need major innovations in software design tools and
methodologies to keep Moore's Law intact," Gary said. The EDA and
embedded software industries must work closely together, he said.
concluded his talk by saying "all of a sudden I'm seeing major EDA vendors
preaching the gospel, which I'm very happy to see." Amen, Brother!