Getting To Market Faster

Re-using IP is the best way to cut time to market and reduce development costs—with some caveats.

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By Jack Harding
IP reusability has been a drumbeat in the semiconductor industry for a dozen years or more. The thesis is simple: Why build again what you already have? And with most durable, simple statements, the foundation is profundity.

The basic need has yielded breakthrough innovation from IP companies large and small. EDA methodologies to “assemble” blocks from pre-existing inventions, and business models like the Value Chain Producer (VCP) that provide the margin-of-victory services to tie it all together. After all, very few, if any, companies can track the specification and actual performance of IP blocks from dozens of suppliers. VCPs do. That is one of our many functions.

As the industry samples 40nm parts and dabbles with 28nm test cases, the imperative for reusability is greater than ever. To date, the form factor has been in cores and blocks. But that must change and it will because even the most “reused IP” on a 40nm device carries a too-expensive NRE tab, whether it’s reused or not.

The unit of measure for reusable IP is rapidly becoming the die. And the delivery mechanism is the Multi-Chip Module (MCM) or the so-called System-in-Package (SiP). Call it whatever you like. There is great promise in taking two die, perhaps both from your company or one from you and another from your partner, and creating a “device” that 1) goes to market faster; 2) has comparatively no NRE tab as compared to a 40nm development, and 3) definitely runs the existing software.

Further, when it’s time to integrate an Analog Front End (AFE) or a GaAs RF radio, probably acquired from a partner, there is no better solution.

But there is also no free lunch. MCMs or SiPs carry their own class of risk. They demand a level of packaging expertise that exceeds what’s held by most fabless companies: It’s die packaging, test, PCB and raw physics rolled into one unforgiving challenge. And once that code is cracked you get to wade through the commercial issues. Who owns the failure if the die comes from a partner?

No one can make a mask set cheaper. We can’t precipitously lower the cost of third-party IP. But there are ways to get to market faster, lower NRE and reuse the IP that either made you great or never saw the light of day.

–Jack Harding is chairman and CEO of eSilicon


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