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A New Class of Data Center SoCs: John Koeter of Synopsys

John Koeter of Synopsys spoke at the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem (November 6, 2013) about a new class of data center SoCs. Koeter is vice president of the Marketing Solutions Group at Synopsys. In this capacity he is responsible for the marketing of Synopsys' DesignWare® Intellectual Property (IP), Professional Services and System-Level Design products.

Koeter noted the trend of increasing internet traffic which is being driven by the mobile market. Globally, peak Internet traffic is expected to grow 3.5x from 2012 to 2017, a 29% CAGR. This will impact the IP world, as semiconductors are expected to meet the changing needs of the data centers. He foresees a major sea change in the data center. The trends are for software defined networks (SDN) and low power micro servers. Also, there will be improvements in the cost/performance ratio achieved through application acceleration with PCIe SSDs.

According to Koeter SDN will reach 35% penetration of the Ethernet switching by 2016. Data centers are moving away from proprietary solutions that are vendor specific. For semiconductor companies this represents $3.7 billion market for SDN and network infrastructure. New architectures are emerging to meet the needs of the data centers. The new semiconductor devices will be SDN-enabled switch ASSPs and SDN-enabled communication processors. Highly integrated processors for new micro servers which are focused on reducing power are necessary.

What I Learned on the Way to the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem

I had a very interesting discussion with Sundar Iyer, CEO of Memoir Systems, during a briefing they gave Semico on their just-released Pattern Aware Memory IP technology.

To briefly restate their announcement: Memoir has researched the different interactions between processors and memory in high-performance datacom systems and found that certain operations recur fairly often.  These operations roughly fall into four groupings: Counter Memory, Sequential Memory, Allocation Memory and Update Memory.  There are probably many more than these types, but Memoir is starting with these operations to begin with.

Memoir Systems is a 3rd party memory IP company and, as such, devotes its time to developing and introducing embedded memory IP to the market. In the case of this new product announcement, the memory IP they are introducing is tailored around the four functions mentioned above. In other words, their memory IP is now configured to better support these specific operations at the memory level and not through software at the processor level in the system. This has large implications for system performance and throughput.

IP Ecosystem Solutions for Complex Systems

At the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem, Mahesh Tirupattur, Executive Vice President, Analog Bits, challenged four panelists to an engaging discussion on their approach to IP Ecosystem Solutions for Complex Systems. Panel participants included Dan Kochpatcharin, Deputy Director, IP Portfolio Management, TSMC; Jason Polychronopoulos, Mentor Graphics; Chris Rowen, Cadence Fellow; and Warren Savage, President and CEO, IPextreme.

Tirupattur skillfully pulled both humorous and discriminating observations from the foundry perspective, the EDA perspective and both a large and small IP vendor.
The topic of the panel was the high cost and risk of integrating IP in today’s semiconductor product development. There’s a massive risk of product failure from choosing the wrong IP, the wrong supplier, the wrong fab, or the wrong process. A misstep means jobs could be on the line. Today, complex SoCs are not comprised of just one or two IP blocks, it’s a battalion of IP coming from a variety of sources. Dan Kochpatcharin of TSMC noted that at the 20nm node an average design has 12 unique IP blocks. That compares to an average of only eight at the 28nm node.

IP Subsystems: Is It A Catalyst for Leading Edge Design Enablement

The System-on-Chip (SoC) market has been successful because of the increasing use of 3rd Party Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP). SoC designers now look to move up a layer of abstraction to design with system level functionality in order to reduce the effort and cost associated with complex SoC designs. By doing so, SoC designers can add higher levels of system functionality and cutting-edge feature sets without needing to design these functions at the absolute lowest level of complexity.

The IP subsystem is a methodology designers are employing to infuse the right level of complexity and functionality to meet rapidly changing market requirements without experiencing a corresponding increase in design costs or design cycle time.
The market entry by Cadence, Synopsys, Sonics and Analog Bits over the past 12+ months marked a turning point in the IP subsystem era. Semico expects to see a competitive market for 3rd party IP subsystems in the follow areas:
• Computing subsystems
• Memory subsystems
• Video subsystems
• Communication subsystems
• Multi Media subsystems
• Storage subsystems
• Audio subsystems
• Security subsystems
• System Resource Management subsystems

New World Applications and the Role of IP

Electronic devices have evolved from cyclical killer applications to everyday ‘must-have’ tools.  Smartphones and tablets are a couple of these ‘must-have’ devices and are already making possible new world applications.  Many of these new world applications, including the Internet of Things and mobile health, will be pervasive and promise high semiconductor unit volumes.  Semico has identified 70 appliances in the average home that can become part of the Internet of Things.  Before we experience the hockey-stick growth in these markets there are a few hurdles to overcome: 

Apple iPhone 5S Compass Problems?

Last week there were reports in the media that users were complaining of off-the-mark readings from the Apple iPhone 5S compass.  Compared to the previous iPhone 5, Apple’s native compass app is displaying discrepancies an average of 8 to 10 degrees with both devices running iOS7.

This has caused “wonky” game experiences such as in driving and physics-based games that rely on tilting the screen for in-game motion.

This has brought into question whether or not this is a hardware malfunction with the motion sensors or some other chip.  There are several teardowns available online.  An examination of the bill of materials shows that the iPhone 5S has:

  • Gyro: STmicro
  • eCompass (magnetometer): AKM
  • Accelerometer: Bosch Sensortec
  • NXP LPC18

The NXP LPC18 is an ARM Cortex-M3 MCU.  It is a coprocessor for the Apple A7 Apps Processor.  This MCU is the sensor hub controller of the iPhone 5S.  It has been referenced as the M7.

The first things that came to my mind as to the cause of the problem: 

Sensor Fusion in the Spotlight

Sensor Fusion is both a hardware and software solution and begins with the combination of more than one sensor.  But there is much more to this solution than integrating sensors.  The objective is to combine the data collected by the sensors in order to extract and use the information.  This requires an algorithm which works with the operating system and makes data available to high level applications such as personal navigation, activity monitoring, context awareness and augmented reality.  This algorithm is often embedded in a microcontroller known as a sensor hub which connects to an applications processor.

On September 23, 2013 ST and Movea announced their agreement to integrate Movea’s SmartMotion technology into the STM32F401 microcontroller operating as a low-power sensor-hub controller.

ST is the leading supplier of MEMS sensors for the consumer and communications market, in particular smart phones.  The company also offers it line of ST32 ARM based MCUs as sensor hub controllers. 

Movea is a leading provider of Sensor Fusion algorithms offering data fusion and motion processing firmware, software, and IP for the consumer electronics industry.  The company offers a comprehensive set of SW, firmware and tools to enable an advanced-motion user experience. 

Movea’s firmware will be integrated into the STM32F401 sensor management platform.  The STM32F401 with SmartMotion technology and tools will be available in Q4 2013. 

SOC Issues and IP Implications

The gap between time-to-market and design completion continues to lengthen as chip complexity increases.

Unfortunately, just as design cycle times have lengthened, product life cycles have shortened, a difficult dichotomy to manage. Increasing capability in terms of gate counts and the impact this has on enhancing functionality and feature sets in the end system, is adding to, not shortening, design cycle times. SoC designs are comprised of complex silicon subsystems, aimed at a system-level solution.

One or many high-performance synthesizable CPU cores, DSP cores, GPU cores, a large block of memory, one or more ‘real-world’ interfaces, mixed-signal or analog blocks, high performance on-chip bus structures and embedded API’s or other software are all elements of SoC design today.

The ability to re-use existing Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) blocks over the course of many SoC designs is one way to reduce the design time. Unfortunately, there are many issues to be addressed. One such issue is interoperability between SIP. Another feature of the SoC market is the willingness of established silicon manufacturers to solicit and acquire SIP from 3rd party sources for incorporation into a currently running design or into their SIP libraries.

Proliferation of MEMS Sensors Providing Greater Awareness to “Things”

The MEMS market is poised for significant growth thanks to major expansion of applications in smart phone and automotive. These two applications driving the increase use of MEMS sensors and actuators will further reduce cost and power while increasing performance, thus fostering new markets including health and fitness as well as home and building automation. Finally, the continuing growth of MEMS will provide new injection of growth in the slowing semiconductor market.

In 2013, Semico expects a total MEMS market of $16.8 B but by 2017 it will have expanded to $28.5 B, a 70 percent increase in a mere four years time. In 2011, 39 percent and 30 percent of all MEMS were being made for automotive and smart phone applications, respectively. Today, Semico expects 40 percent to be destined for smart phones and a mere 25 percent for automotive. Today’s smart phone will not only have the standard accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope; it will also come with pressure sensor to provide altitude data—detailing the floor in a high rise of the user—as well as MEMS in one or more microphones, in the autofocus of the cameras and in SAW filters and resonant cavities in the radio of the phone.

ComicCon 2013: Will New Hardware and Content Revive Video Games?

I know I should be on vacation enjoying myself, but Comic Con in San Diego allows me to mix business and pleasure. As I say every year, there were more nerds than you can shake a light saber at.

For those unfamiliar with ComicCon it is the largest convention for comic books in the world. However, it covers a great deal more. Science fiction and fantasy TV and movies are heavily represented. These are usually tied in with comics and animation. There is also a strong tie in with video games.

For the sixth straight year ComicCon was sold out for all four days with attendance of 125,000 each day. It is the largest convention through out the year for the city of San Diego. The event ran from July 18 to July 21. There are so many companies that want to tap into the energy and excitement of Comic Con that a lot of activity has spilled out into downtown San Diego. Many people who cannot get badges into the convention center take advantage of this. Consequently several companies demo upcoming video games for all platforms at various venues spread out over the area. Microsoft had a separate gaming lounge in one of the major hotels.

Content is King! Without enough material there is little incentive to buy the hardware. What consumers want to see and how they want to interact with it drives the development of the electronics. It is not surprising that many attendees are technically savvy early adopters.

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