Dialog Semiconductor aims to expand its use of configurable mixed-signal circuitry across its product line following its acquisition of specialist Silego a year ago.
Mark Hopgood, senior director of strategic marketing for Dialog, said: “We are trying to bring the FPGA experience to the analog domain, using cost-optimized configurable mixed-signal devices. Our vision is to build that type of flexibility into almost all the mixed-signal devices we produce.”
Hopgood explained mixed-signal designers are now enduring a similar level of pain to that experienced by their digital counterparts in the late 1990s when gate-array mask costs began to spiral upwards. “Our [power management ICs] are now as much as 60 square millimeters of silicon. It’s a costly mistake if you have to go through additional mask sets. You have to have some configurability on the analog side.”
The approach used by Dialog to provide configurability in the standalone configurable mixed-signal integrated circuits (CMICs) is to provide a portfolio of devices with different capacities that are configured in a top metal layer just before packaging and shipped to the customer the same way as a standard product. The customer chooses the functions and tunes them using a graphical software tool, which is used to generate the order. The lead time to shipment is four to six weeks, Hopgood said. “We’ve shipped four billion of these chips so far.”
The functions are provided as relatively coarse-grained modules such as op-amps and analog-digital converters. “We are growing the library as we go along,” Hopgood said.
“How we find our first design-ins happening with CMICs is that an engineer makes a mistake in a board design, maybe forgetting to add a debounce for an input. We help get them out of jail. Then they start to find other uses, challenging themselves to use as much as possible. Another advantage of the CMIC is that they make it more difficult to copy the design: it’s one more barrier to entry for someone to tear down the product and do a me-too design.”