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The IP Subsystem Race is On

Designers at large IDMs first created their own IP Subsystems out of the discrete IP blocks they were already licensing or had developed internally.  This was done to both reduce the level of effort they were expending to create a certain level of functionality and to increase the performance of these discrete blocks in the design. This process has been occurring for the last 4 – 5 years as a captive activity at several of the larger IDMs around the world.

Now, for the first time, major IP Vendors are starting to offer their own IP Subsystems as products available from the 3rd Party market to designers at companies of all sizes. The IP Subsystem as a product is the embodiment of the desire by silicon designers to move up a layer of abstraction and to design with system-level functions instead of licensing many discrete IP blocks and aggregating them into the system-level functionality they need for their silicon solutions. By approaching the design flow in this manner, a great deal of time and cost can be removed from the design effort. There are several potential benefits to designers in adopting this approach:

  1. Because the all the IP blocks in the subsystem are coming from one vendor, interoperability issues within that subsystem are minimized or removed altogether.
  2. Because the IP Subsystem is a self-contained, predefined function, the applications software can be written for it independent of the silicon design. In essence, the applications code for two or more subsystems in the design can be written in parallel instead of serially – and can produce a substantial reduction in design time and cost while offering the potential for better code to be written.
  3. Testing of the applications code running on the subsystem can begin much earlier in the design flow and can deliver more robust functionality to the designers and ultimately end users
  4. Because the subsystem is self contained, changes in functionality due to changing market requirements can be accomplished faster and with less effort.
  5. Because one IP vendor is supplying the subsystem, there is the opportunity to fine-tune the blocks present in the subsystem to work better with each other than if they had been acquired from multiple vendors. Performance can be enhanced.

The list of subsystem products that 3rd Party IP vendors will introduce can be a long one since the types of system-level functions at the silicon level is practically endless. There are several large IP companies that already have products that qualify as subsystems: ARM, Ceva, Imagination Technologies and Tensilica are in the market today. Added to this list are newer entrants like Sonics, with a Memory IP Subsystem, Synopsys with an Audio IP Subsystem, and most recently, Cadence with a Storage IP Subsystem product. Other IP vendors like Authentec, ChipStart and Posedge have introduced their own subsystem products grouped around Security, SoC System Management and Communications functions.

As this trend gathers momentum, it is logical to expect other companies to also introduce their own subsystem products as their customers start requesting more evolved, innovative solutions to use in their own end products. It is also reasonable to expect some of these companies to introduce additional subsystems aimed for other areas within the SoC architecture.

Semico expects that many potential customers will contribute their own ideas as to which types of system level functionality they would like to see as integrated, contiguous blocks made commercially available to their design teams. At the end of the day, this movement is all about evolution, integration and innovation. The semiconductor market is impacted by all three of these forces on a daily basis and in order to keep the market alive and healthy,  companies must take a leadership position to create products that reduce cost and increase functionality and performance.

In this manner, the market can move forward and service increasing customer expectations for more functionality and more advanced feature sets. The era of the IP Subsystem has arrived and the race is on to provide the right capabilities at the system level that designers need to craft the solution for their next ‘must-have’ product. It’s a good time to be in the semiconductor industry!