In the early 1990s, Dr Tsugio Makimoto made an observation while working as Sony’s chief technology officer. He had observed that electronics cycled between custom solutions and programmable ones approximately every ten years. This became known as Makimoto’s Wave and is in part driven by EDA which enables new types of customization to be possible and affects the relative costs of the two types of solution.
As Makimoto sees it, the cycle started 1957-1967 with discrete components which are standard parts. This evolved into LSIs during 1967-1977 which were custom parts designed for markets such as calculators and TVs. Microprocessor architectures dominated the 1970s providing the next wave of standard parts and then in the 1980s, further integration made the custom ASIC possible. Makimoto then sees that the 1990s were the rise of the FPGAs and that SoC and SiPs were the following custom period. The observation would require that the next wave, starting in 2017 be one of standardization and involve some form of highly-flexible super integration.
Semiconductor Pendulum from “The Hot Decade of Field Programmable Technologies” by Tsugio Makimoto
Many people feel that the last few swings of the pendulum are stretches and that architectures have remained in the standard era for some time, driven by the increasing reliance of the IP industry for the major building blocks of chips. While an SoC contains a small amount of custom logic, it is dominated by the general purpose processor architecture which has expanded with multi-core architectures. FPGAs, while important in some market segments, have never risen to become mainstream and were certainly not a dominant architecture in the 1990s.
Today, we are moving into a period which could see a return to more custom architectures, driven primarily by low-power trends. Changes in processes technologies have also caused dynamic power to return to importance because the finFET resolves what had been a growing issue with leakage power. With a growing concern for dynamic power optimization, we may start to see more functions migrating away from general purpose processor solutions.