IBM and Xilinx have signed an agreement that could help custom chip designers save dramatically on the cost of creating future chips. Under the agreement, IBM has licensed FPGA (field programmable gate array) technology from Xilinx for integration into IBM's new Cu-08 ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) product offering. Cu-08 is said to support circuits as small as 90 nanometres.
According to the companies, engineers working on complex chip designs have been clamouring for ways to achieve high levels of integration yet still have the ability to change 'on the fly' late in the design cycle. Combining FPGA circuits that can be configured by the customer to perform a wide variety of digital electronic circuit functions, with a standard ASIC, gives these designers the flexibility of the FPGA with the density, performance and overall cost advantages of an ASIC, all on one chip.
"Savings here could be dramatic," said Michel Mayer, general manager, IBM Microelectronics. "When an ASIC takes on more function, you can reduce cost by eliminating one, two or even more separate chips. With this technology, customers would be able to tweak designs and integrate new changes immediately, eliminating the need to restart a whole new design cycle and bringing tremendous time-to-market advantages."
Mayer said changes that force an additional chip prototype can easily cost hundreds of thousands of extra dollars and can stretch design cycles out for several additional months.
"This approach is expected to change the landscape entirely," he said. "Cu-08, with as many as eight layers of copper wiring separated by an advanced low-k insulation, will support up to 72 million wireable 'gates', or basic logic circuits, for high-complexity IC solutions. With this announcement, a certain portion of these gates, generally between 20 000 and 100 000, although they can be as high as 400 000, could be dedicated to one or more of the FPGA cores on the ASIC."
"We have improved upon our delivery of programmable hardware by allowing reconfiguration using the same chip. Flexibility is the beauty of combining ASIC and FPGA technology," said Wim Roelandts, president and CEO at Xilinx.
Xilinx says that even after the custom chip is in an OEM's product, the manufacturer of that product can add to its function, doing so simply and effectively either using on-chip resources or a traditional programming approach. A good example would be in the communication industry, where various protocol and interface specifications are constantly evolving.