The Single Platform Strategy

NoC technology adds flexibility, lower costs and faster time to market.

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By Kurt Shuler
For semiconductor companies in high-volume or emerging growth markets, the days of using multiple platforms to address different segments are over. The new era of using a single platform to address several different segments is rapidly taking hold. Adding fuel to this transition is the greater flexibility that design teams have to spin derivatives of those single platforms.

Those that can adapt quickly and deliver multiple derivatives have the best chance of making the single-platform strategy pay off. The good news is that time-to-market barriers are falling faster than ever before.

From my perspective, there has never been a more exciting time to enable the flexibility that design teams need to help them accomplish their goals. The wireless industry has supplanted the PC as the main growth driver, and the most sophisticated chips are now produced with high-end smartphones and tablets in mind. What’s been most fascinating during this time of transition is to see these top-tier SoCs undergo a slight tweak at the RTL level and emerge three-to-six months later as disruptive chips for the automotive, home entertainment and industrial segments.

The industry is delivering new success stories every day. For example, a sophisticated smartphone application processor featuring multiple high-end GPUs was successfully introduced by one company’s most senior engineering team. Ninety percent of the IP used in that design was then re-used for a chip to address the digital TV market. A less-seasoned group of engineers assigned to the task eliminated some of the GPU cores and easily added video encoding IP. Not only did the chip deliver a better multimedia experience than the market leader, the low costs incurred and a quick turnaround time made sense economically for this emerging niche.

Higher Risks, Greater Rewards for Flexibility
Missing the mark on a game-changing feature set for a target market is still creating casualties in this business, and perhaps that will never change. However, design teams are smaller and less experienced than they ever have been. Their resources are more constrained, creating higher risk for failure.

But the single-platform strategy places even greater emphasis on the kind of adaptability that will allow teams to bounce back and integrate the features that certain markets require.

Time to market is still the ruling order of the day, and what’s changing at the RTL level is the time it takes to add and subtract the critical IP blocks that lead to a game-changing SoC derivative. Companies that have migrated from an on-chip bus or crossbar interconnect to network-on-chip technology are usually the first beneficiaries of the single-platform strategy. They are able to spin derivatives of their most advanced designs in as little as three months.

Some companies are still embracing the multiple-platform strategy and are putting themselves at great risk of missing out on major opportunities. Many of those companies still haven’t discovered just how easy it is to reconfigure the IP on a design because their interconnect strategy, or lack thereof, is standing in the way. Under the old paradigm, changing IP on a chip was time consuming because the interconnect had to be redesigned for each block or core that was added or subtracted. With the NoC approach, that is no longer the case, and the companies clinging to the old mindset still struggle to get designs out the door to meet the optimal market window.

NoC Technology Allows Faster Corrections to Mistakes and Errors
Under the old multiple-platform strategy, many companies that missed the mark on the hot feature sets for a given segment would get shut out of a market opportunity, and, unfortunately the design teams usually got their pink slips. While the pressure today is still the same to get the feature set correct the first time, NoC technology gives companies the flexibility to design a derivative in a shorter time frame. It also gives them greater flexibility to address new markets and reduces the strain on its most senior designers. In a sense, the NoC is giving new life to the single platform SoC strategy.

—Kurt Shuler is vice president of marketing at Arteris.