DAC 2012: The platforms are taking over
At last year’s DAC, leading EDA analyst Gary Smith said chip design had run into a big problem: it was already too expensive to be worthwhile for most companies.
Soon afterwards, three companies rang to tell him that the figures were too pessimistic: it was not costing in the region of $75m but perhaps just half of that. What had happened is that companies had already enacted a number of recommendations that came up in the 2011 speech: using more IP to reduce the number of individual blocks that needed to be incorporated into an SoC.
Smith explained at this year’s Sunday evening market analysis talk at the Marriott Hotel that in bringing the price tag down to a ‘mere’ $38.5m, design teams had bought more extensive IP – and chose to couple design IP with verification IP – as well as reducing the number of individual blocks. And they were making sure the new designs had software already in place from previous projects – helping to keep one of the biggest growth factors in chip design under control.
Sharon Tan, principal analyst at Gary Smith EDA, explained how platform-based design has moved to multi-platform. Citing infotainment systems developed by Audi as an example, multiple platforms are being combined into one.
At the bottom is the functional platform: “the base for the SoC,” she said. This is generally an ARM or Intel processor and associated peripherals. On top of that goes the foundational platform: adding blocks for vertical applications. “There is still no competitive advantage here,” she said for the SoC developer.
The secret sauce goes into the next layer: the application platform. “This is the most fluid category and it is usually designed in-house. This is where you get your competitive advantage,” she explained.
Often, functions defined for the application platform get subsumed into the lower layers. GPS is a prime example. Tan said after the main presentation that it’s not entirely clear what governs how an application platform function will be pulled down, but the combination of potential market size and design risk appears to play into the economics of this.
Owning the applications platform is vital, Tan said: “The first vendor in has a sustainable advantage. It’s hard for the others to play catch up.”
Smith said this platform focus is set to change the face of EDA. “What we are looking at now is a set of tools that will do library development rather than product development. This will blow open the market. This is where you will see an explosion in system-level design,” he claimed. “We really think the platform providers will have a place in EDA. It would be nice to see a company like Qualcomm exhibiting on the DAC floor.”
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