Mixed-Signal Integration Drives Platform Chips

It’s no longer about just analog and digital. It’s also about software.

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Not only are there low-power challenges with just about every design today, there are also very interesting issues concerning integration of mixed-signal onto chips.

As chips are get bigger and more costly to develop, many companies are turning to platform chips that can be used in a smartphone and in a tablet with slightly different twists in the functionality of that platform chip because of the end markets.

“In the smartphone there’s a lot more wireless connectivity expected than there would be in, say, a tablet which would be mostly for WiFi-type applications where it’s just looking for a hotspot, whereas in a smartphone that particular platform chip has to support multiple bands of different telecommunications standards,” said Navraj Nandra, senior director of marketing for DesignWare analog and mixed signal IP at Synopsys. “From the design perspective the challenge is integrating all that different mixed-signal capability into a single substrate without compromising the fidelity of the performance of the architectures and of the design.”

Engineers want different functionalities, which is essentially mixed-signal, and to be able to put them onto a big digital chip. They want to how to make sure that all the integration, the isolation, the noise, etc., are managed. This puts pressure on the IP suppliers to develop mixed-signal IP that is robust in 28nm environments.

Within those platform chips, engineering teams are using software for configurability. That means they configure their devices based on some kind of software overlay, which helps to define the different product functionalities, Nandra said. “At a lower level, companies are also differentiating on their platform chip by having some functionality that’s available on, say, a tablet, and some functionality that is available on a networking chip and that allows the differentiation but the baseline design is exactly the same.”

What’s interesting about this is the increasing role of mixed-signal AND software. We’re sure to see this activity become more sophisticated over time and become better integrated into the mainstream SoC design flows. What is your experience with mixed-signal and software?

—Ann Steffora Mutschler