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An application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC // ) is an integrated circuit (IC) customized for a particular use, rather than intended for general-purpose use. For example, a chip designed to run in a digital voice recorder or a high-efficiency bitcoin miner is an ASIC. Application-specific standard products (ASSPs) are intermediate between ASICs and industry standard integrated circuits like the 7400 series or the 4000 series.
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.
As feature sizes have shrunk and design tools improved over the years, the maximum complexity (and hence functionality) possible in an ASIC has grown from 5,000 logic gates to over 100 million. Modern ASICs often include entire microprocessors, memory blocks including ROM, RAM, EEPROM, flash memory and other large building blocks. Such an ASIC is often termed a SoC (system-on-chip). Designers of digital ASICs often use a hardware description language (HDL), such as Verilog or VHDL, to describe the functionality of ASICs.
In electronics, a logic gate is an idealized or physical device implementing a Boolean function; that is, it performs a logical operation on one or more binary inputs and produces a single binary output. Depending on the context, the term may refer to an ideal logic gate, one that has for instance zero rise time and unlimited fan-out, or it may refer to a non-ideal physical device.
A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor or main processor, is the electronic circuitry within a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output (I/O) operations specified by the instructions. The computer industry has used the term "central processing unit" at least since the early 1960s. Traditionally, the term "CPU" refers to a processor, more specifically to its processing unit and control unit (CU), distinguishing these core elements of a computer from external components such as main memory and I/O circuitry.
Memory is the faculty of the brain by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed.
Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) are the modern-day technology for building a breadboard or prototype from standard parts; programmable logic blocks and programmable interconnects allow the same FPGA to be used in many different applications. For smaller designs or lower production volumes, FPGAs may be more cost effective than an ASIC design, even in production. The non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost of an ASIC can run into the millions of dollars. Therefore, device manufacturers typically prefer FPGAs for prototyping and devices with low production volume and ASICs for very large production volumes where NRE costs can be amortized across many devices.
A field-programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing – hence the term "field-programmable". The FPGA configuration is generally specified using a hardware description language (HDL), similar to that used for an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). Circuit diagrams were previously used to specify the configuration, but this is increasingly rare due to the advent of electronic design automation tools.
A breadboard is a construction base for prototyping of electronics. Originally the word referred to a literal bread board, a polished piece of wood used for slicing bread. In the 1970s the solderless breadboard became available and nowadays the term "breadboard" is commonly used to refer to these.
Non-recurring engineering (NRE) refers to the one-time cost to research, design, develop and test a new product or product enhancement. When budgeting for a new product, NRE must be considered to analyze if a new product will be profitable. Even though a company will pay for NRE on a project only once, NRE costs can be prohibitively high and the product will need to sell well enough to produce a return on the initial investment. NRE is unlike production costs, which must be paid constantly to maintain production of a product. It is a form of fixed cost in economics terms. Once a system is designed any number of units can be manufactured without increasing NRE cost. NRE can be also formulated and paid via another commercial term called Royalty Fee. The Royalty Fee could be a percentage of sales revenue or profit or combination of these two, which have to be incorporated in a mid to long term agreement between technology supplier and the OEM.
The initial ASICs used gate array technology. An early successful commercial application was the gate array circuitry found in the low-end 8-bit ZX81 and ZX Spectrum personal computers, introduced in 1981 and 1982. These were used by Sinclair Research (UK) essentially as a low-cost I/O solution aimed at handling the computer's graphics.
A gate array is an approach to the design and manufacture of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) using a prefabricated chip with components that are later interconnected into logic devices according to a custom order by adding metal interconnect layers in the factory.
The ZX81 is a home computer that was produced by Sinclair Research and manufactured in Dundee, Scotland by Timex Corporation. It was launched in the United Kingdom in March 1981 as the successor to Sinclair's ZX80 and was designed to be a low-cost introduction to home computing for the general public. It was hugely successful, and more than 1.5 million units were sold before it was discontinued. The ZX81 found commercial success in many other countries, notably the United States where it was initially sold as the ZX-81. Timex manufactured and distributed it under licence and enjoyed a substantial but brief boom in sales. Timex later produced its own versions of the ZX81 for the US market: the Timex Sinclair 1000 and Timex Sinclair 1500. Unauthorized clones of the ZX81 were produced in several countries.
The ZX Spectrum is an 8-bit personal home computer released in the United Kingdom in 1982 by Sinclair Research.
Customization occurred by varying a metal interconnect mask. Gate arrays had complexities of up to a few thousand gates; this is now called mid-scale integration. Later versions became more generalized, with different base dies customized by both metal and polysilicon layers. Some base dies also include random-access memory (RAM) elements.
A die, in the context of integrated circuits, is a small block of semiconducting material on which a given functional circuit is fabricated. Typically, integrated circuits are produced in large batches on a single wafer of electronic-grade silicon (EGS) or other semiconductor through processes such as photolithography. The wafer is cut (diced) into many pieces, each containing one copy of the circuit. Each of these pieces is called a die.
Polycrystalline silicon, also called polysilicon or poly-Si, is a high purity, polycrystalline form of silicon, used as a raw material by the solar photovoltaic and electronics industry.
Random-access memory is a form of computer data storage that stores data and machine code currently being used. A random-access memory device allows data items to be read or written in almost the same amount of time irrespective of the physical location of data inside the memory. In contrast, with other direct-access data storage media such as hard disks, CD-RWs, DVD-RWs and the older magnetic tapes and drum memory, the time required to read and write data items varies significantly depending on their physical locations on the recording medium, due to mechanical limitations such as media rotation speeds and arm movement.
In the mid-1980s, a designer would choose an ASIC manufacturer and implement their design using the design tools available from the manufacturer. While third-party design tools were available, there was not an effective link from the third-party design tools to the layout and actual semiconductor process performance characteristics of the various ASIC manufacturers. Most designers used factory-specific tools to complete the implementation of their designs. A solution to this problem, which also yielded a much higher density device, was the implementation of standard cells. Every ASIC manufacturer could create functional blocks with known electrical characteristics, such as propagation delay, capacitance and inductance, that could also be represented in third-party tools. Standard-cell design is the utilization of these functional blocks to achieve very high gate density and good electrical performance. Standard-cell design is intermediate between § Gate-array and semi-custom design and § Full-custom design in terms of its non-recurring engineering and recurring component costs as well as performance and speed of development (including time to market).
Integrated circuit layout, also known IC layout, IC mask layout, or mask design, is the representation of an integrated circuit in terms of planar geometric shapes which correspond to the patterns of metal, oxide, or semiconductor layers that make up the components of the integrated circuit.
In semiconductor design, standard cell methodology is a method of designing application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) with mostly digital-logic features. Standard cell methodology is an example of design abstraction, whereby a low-level very-large-scale integration (VLSI) layout is encapsulated into an abstract logic representation. Cell-based methodology — the general class to which standard cells belong — makes it possible for one designer to focus on the high-level aspect of digital design, while another designer focuses on the implementation (physical) aspect. Along with semiconductor manufacturing advances, standard cell methodology has helped designers scale ASICs from comparatively simple single-function ICs, to complex multi-million gate system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices.
Propagation delay is the length of time taken for the quantity of interest to reach its destination. It can relate to networking, electronics or physics.
By the late 1990s, logic synthesis tools became available. Such tools could compile HDL descriptions into a gate-level netlist. Standard-cell integrated circuits (ICs) are designed in the following conceptual stages referred to as electronics design flow, although these stages overlap significantly in practice:
These steps, implemented with a level of skill common in the industry, almost always produce a final device that correctly implements the original design, unless flaws are later introduced by the physical fabrication process.[ citation needed ]
The design steps, also called design flow, are also common to standard product design. The significant difference is that standard-cell design uses the manufacturer's cell libraries that have been used in potentially hundreds of other design implementations and therefore are of much lower risk than full custom design. Standard cells produce a design density that is cost effective, and they can also integrate IP cores and static random-access memory (SRAM) effectively, unlike gate arrays.
Gate array design is a manufacturing method in which diffused layers, each consisting transistors and other active devices, are predefined and electronics wafers containing such devices are "held in stock" or unconnected prior to the metallization stage of the fabrication process. The physical design process defines the interconnections of these layers for the final device. For most ASIC manufacturers, this consists of between two and nine metal layers with each layer running perpendicular to the one below it. Non-recurring engineering costs are much lower than full custom designs, as photolithographic masks are required only for the metal layers. Production cycles are much shorter, as metallization is a comparatively quick process; thereby accelerating time to market.
Gate-array ASICs are always a compromise between rapid design and performance as mapping a given design onto what a manufacturer held as a stock wafer never gives 100% circuit utilization. Often difficulties in routing the interconnect require migration onto a larger array device with consequent increase in the piece part price. These difficulties are often a result of the layout EDA software used to develop the interconnect.
Pure, logic-only gate-array design is rarely implemented by circuit designers today, having been almost entirely replaced by field-programmable devices. Most prominent of such devices are field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) which can be programmed by the user and thus offer minimal tooling charges non-recurring engineering, only marginally increased piece part cost, and comparable performance.
Today, gate arrays are evolving into structured ASICs that consist of a large IP core like a CPU, digital signal processor units, peripherals, standard interfaces, integrated memories, SRAM, and a block of reconfigurable, uncommitted logic. This shift is largely because ASIC devices are capable of integrating large blocks of system functionality, and systems on a chip (SoCs) require glue logic, communications subsystems (such as networks on chip), peripherals and other components rather than only functional units and basic interconnection.
In their frequent usages in the field, the terms "gate array" and "semi-custom" are synonymous when referring to ASICs. Process engineers more commonly use the term "semi-custom", while "gate-array" is more commonly used by logic (or gate-level) designers.
By contrast, full-custom ASIC design defines all the photolithographic layers of the device. Full-custom design is used for both ASIC design and for standard product design.
The benefits of full-custom design include reduced area (and therefore recurring component cost), performance improvements, and also the ability to integrate analog components and other pre-designed—and thus fully verified—components, such as microprocessor cores, that form a system on a chip.
The disadvantages of full-custom design can include increased manufacturing and design time, increased non-recurring engineering costs, more complexity in the computer-aided design (CAD) and electronic design automation systems, and a much higher skill requirement on the part of the design team.
For digital-only designs, however, "standard-cell" cell libraries, together with modern CAD systems, can offer considerable performance/cost benefits with low risk. Automated layout tools are quick and easy to use and also offer the possibility to "hand-tweak" or manually optimize any performance-limiting aspect of the design.
This is designed by using basic logic gates, circuits or layout specially for a design.
Structured ASIC design (also referred to as "platform ASIC design") is a relatively new trend in the semiconductor industry, resulting in some variation in its definition. However, the basic premise of a structured ASIC is that both manufacturing cycle time and design cycle time are reduced compared to cell-based ASIC, by virtue of there being pre-defined metal layers (thus reducing manufacturing time) and pre-characterization of what is on the silicon (thus reducing design cycle time).
One definition states that
In a "structured ASIC" design, the logic mask-layers of a device are predefined by the ASIC vendor (or in some cases by a third party). Design differentiation and customization is achieved by creating custom metal layers that create custom connections between predefined lower-layer logic elements. "Structured ASIC" technology is seen as bridging the gap between field-programmable gate arrays and "standard-cell" ASIC designs. Because only a small number of chip layers must be custom-produced, "structured ASIC" designs have much smaller non-recurring expenditures (NRE) than "standard-cell" or "full-custom" chips, which require that a full mask set be produced for every design.[ citation needed ]
This is effectively the same definition as a gate array. What distinguishes a structured ASIC from a gate array is that in a gate array, the predefined metal layers serve to make manufacturing turnaround faster. In a structured ASIC, the use of predefined metallization is primarily to reduce cost of the mask sets as well as making the design cycle time significantly shorter.
For example, in a cell-based or gate-array design the user must often design power, clock, and test structures themselves. By contrast, these are predefined in most structured ASICs and therefore can save time and expense for the designer compared to gate-array based designs. Likewise, the design tools used for structured ASIC can be substantially lower cost and easier (faster) to use than cell-based tools, because they do not have to perform all the functions that cell-based tools do. In some cases, the structured ASIC vendor requires that customized tools for their device (e.g., custom physical synthesis) be used, also allowing for the design to be brought into manufacturing more quickly.
Cell libraries of logical primitives are usually provided by the device manufacturer as part of the service. Although they will incur no additional cost, their release will be covered by the terms of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and they will be regarded as intellectual property by the manufacturer. Usually their physical design will be pre-defined so they could be termed "hard macros".
What most engineers understand as "intellectual property" are IP cores, designs purchased from a third-party as sub-components of a larger ASIC. They may be provided in the form of a hardware description language (often termed a "soft macro"), or as a fully routed design that could be printed directly onto an ASIC's mask (often termed a "hard macro"). Many organizations now sell such pre-designed cores — CPUs, Ethernet, USB or telephone interfaces — and larger organizations may have an entire department or division to produce cores for the rest of the organization. The company ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) only sells IP cores, making it a fabless manufacturer.
Indeed, the wide range of functions now available in structured ASIC design is a result of the phenomenal improvement in electronics in the late 1990s and early 2000s; as a core takes a lot of time and investment to create, its re-use and further development cuts product cycle times dramatically and creates better products. Additionally, open-source hardware organizations such as OpenCores are collecting free IP cores, paralleling the open-source software movement in hardware design.
Soft macros are often process-independent (i.e. they can be fabricated on a wide range of manufacturing processes and different manufacturers). Hard macros are process-limited and usually further design effort must be invested to migrate (port) to a different process or manufacturer.
Some manufacturers offer multi-project wafers (MPW) as a method of obtaining low cost prototypes. Often called shuttles, these MPW, containing several designs, run at regular, scheduled intervals on a "cut and go" basis, usually with very little liability on the part of the manufacturer. The contract involves the assembly and packaging of a handful of devices. The service usually involves the supply of a physical design database (i.e. masking information or pattern generation (PG) tape). The manufacturer is often referred to as a "silicon foundry" due to the low involvement it has in the process.
An application-specific standard product or ASSP is an integrated circuit that implements a specific function that appeals to a wide market. As opposed to ASICs that combine a collection of functions and are designed by or for one customer, ASSPs are available as off-the-shelf components. ASSPs are used in all industries, from automotive to communications.[ citation needed ] As a general rule, if you can find a design in a data book, then it is probably not an ASIC, but there are some exceptions.
For example, two ICs that might or might not be considered ASICs are a controller chip for a PC and a chip for a modem. Both of these examples are specific to an application (which is typical of an ASIC) but are sold to many different system vendors (which is typical of standard parts). ASICs such as these are sometimes called application-specific standard products (ASSPs).
Examples of ASSPs are encoding/decoding chip, standalone USB interface chip, etc.
IEEE used to publish an ASSP magazine,which was renamed to IEEE Signal Processing Magazine in 1990.
Processor design is the design engineering task of creating a processor, a key component of computer hardware. It is a subfield of computer engineering and electronics engineering (fabrication). The design process involves choosing an instruction set and a certain execution paradigm and results in a microarchitecture, which might be described in e.g. VHDL or Verilog. For microprocessor design, this description is then manufactured employing some of the various semiconductor device fabrication processes, resulting in a die which is bonded onto a chip carrier. This chip carrier is then soldered onto, or inserted into a socket on, a printed circuit board (PCB).
A programmable logic device (PLD) is an electronic component used to build reconfigurable digital circuits. Unlike integrated circuits (IC) which consist of logic gates and have a fixed function, a PLD has an undefined function at the time of manufacture. Before the PLD can be used in a circuit it must be programmed (reconfigured) by using a specialized program.
A system on a chip or system on chip is an integrated circuit that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system. These components typically include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports and secondary storage – all on a single substrate or microchip, the size of a coin. It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio frequency signal processing functions, depending on the application. As they are integrated on a single substrate, SoCs consume much less power and take up much less area than multi-chip designs with equivalent functionality. Because of this, SoCs are very common in the mobile computing and edge computing markets. Systems on chip are commonly used in embedded systems and the Internet of Things.
Reconfigurable computing is a computer architecture combining some of the flexibility of software with the high performance of hardware by processing with very flexible high speed computing fabrics like field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The principal difference when compared to using ordinary microprocessors is the ability to make substantial changes to the datapath itself in addition to the control flow. On the other hand, the main difference from custom hardware, i.e. application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) is the possibility to adapt the hardware during runtime by "loading" a new circuit on the reconfigurable fabric.
Altera Corporation was a leading American manufacturer of programmable logic devices (PLDs), reconfigurable complex digital circuits, from 1984 through 2015. Altera released its first PLD in 1984.
Xilinx, Inc. is an American technology company and is primarily a supplier of programmable logic devices.
A complex programmable logic device (CPLD) is a programmable logic device with complexity between that of PALs and FPGAs, and architectural features of both. The main building block of the CPLD is a macrocell, which contains logic implementing disjunctive normal form expressions and more specialized logic operations.
Nios II is a 32-bit embedded-processor architecture designed specifically for the Altera family of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) integrated circuits. Nios II incorporates many enhancements over the original Nios architecture, making it more suitable for a wider range of embedded computing applications, from digital signal processing (DSP) to system-control.
VLSI Technology, Inc., was a company that designed and manufactured custom and semi-custom integrated circuits (ICs). The company was based in Silicon Valley, with headquarters at 1109 McKay Drive in San Jose. Along with LSI Logic, VLSI Technology defined the leading edge of the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) business, which accelerated the push of powerful embedded systems into affordable products.
In computing, hardware acceleration is the use of computer hardware specially made to perform some functions more efficiently than is possible in software running on a general-purpose CPU. Any transformation of data or routine that can be computed, can be calculated purely in software running on a generic CPU, purely in custom-made hardware, or in some mix of both. An operation can be computed faster in application-specific hardware designed or programmed to compute the operation than specified in software and performed on a general-purpose computer processor. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The implementation of computing tasks in hardware to decrease latency and increase throughput is known as hardware acceleration.
Flow to HDL tools and methods convert flow-based system design into a hardware description language (HDL) such as VHDL or Verilog. Typically this is a method of creating designs for field-programmable gate array, application-specific integrated circuit prototyping and digital signal processing (DSP) design. Flow-based system design is well-suited to field-programmable gate array design as it is easier to specify the innate parallelism of the architecture.
In integrated circuit design, physical design is a step in the standard design cycle which follows after the circuit design. At this step, circuit representations of the components of the design are converted into geometric representations of shapes which, when manufactured in the corresponding layers of materials, will ensure the required functioning of the components. This geometric representation is called integrated circuit layout. This step is usually split into several sub-steps, which include both design and verification and validation of the layout.
Structured ASIC is an intermediate technology between ASIC and FPGA, offering high performance, a characteristic of ASIC, and low NRE cost, a characteristic of FPGA. Using Structured ASIC allows products to be introduced quickly to market, to have lower cost and to be designed with ease.
Field-programmable gate array prototyping, also referred to as FPGA-based prototyping, ASIC prototyping or system-on-chip (SoC) prototyping, is the method to prototype system-on-chip and application-specific integrated circuit designs on FPGAs for hardware verification and early software development.
Circuit underutilization also programmable circuit underutilization, gate underutilization, logic block underutilization refers to a physical incomplete utility of semiconductor grade silicon on a standardized mass-produced circuit programmable chip, such as a gate array type ASIC, an FPGA, or a CPLD.
In computing, a logic block or configurable logic block (CLB) is a fundamental building block of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. Logic blocks can be configured by the engineer to provide reconfigurable logic gates.