Archive for August, 2012

Aug 27 2012

Hogan and Bose talk about SOC trends

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August 2012 – at the NIT Alumni association dinner in August, Jim Hogan of Vista Ventures and Ajoy Bose of Atrenta talked pretty openly about the shifts and changes in the SOC marketplace and what needs to change to allow the semi guys to hold value and profits. The challenge in the technology world today is that the economics have shifted to where the system and its function – including IT infrastructure – is where the market value and profits are held – not in the components and creative hardware design any more.

The shift has taken place to have application verification and adaptability of the hardware to multiple uses be the driver, similar to the market forces that were at work to shift from microcontrollers & workstation hardware to the industry convergence on general purpose single & multicore x86 processing as the dominant platform. This shift for mobile however, is not driving a single core device, rather a large set of multiple SOCs addressing the various segments of the mobile device marketplace including graphics, central compute, wireless & networking, and memory/storage interface. Figure 1 shows the major subsystems in these devices and the technology migration that is driving them.

Hogan - SOC Technology Roadmap

The table show the complexity of process knowledge that is needed for the various SOCs and as a result, the whole system platform is no longer dominated by the semiconductor vendors, but by the system architect. The commonality between these two technologies is the software emulation and verification platform that is needed to check that the semiconductor device and the larger application platform (hardware system) are working properly prior to committing the design to manufacturing, The rising cost, in both schedule turn around due to extended lithography and manufacturing steps as well as direct expense for the use of foundries and sub-contract manufacturers, requires that the hardware solutions not only work the first time out, but be fully functional in all parametric aspects.

In order to insure these systems will work, the verification function has to move up from just covering in-chip path timing to full SOC SDK validation and multi-chip software application validation. While not a single tool the verification platforms must interoperate to insure that functionality at lower levels connects with the testing environment at the higher levels. This opportunity allows new companies to enter the verification space as there are multiple languages and application verticals that need different tool optimization.

This trend is driving the embedded system space to diverge from a single unified market to a complex set of independent vertical markets, even in the sub category of mobile devices, that need specialized tools, technology and SOC solutions around the common hardware cores. The next wave of hardware is the dominance of the platform design at both the board and SOC level, as product differentiation is in the application software and the infrastructure to support that software on a global market basis.

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