Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
MyDesign: Dick Tracy’s keychain
January 1st, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
As proposed last month in this space, I’m designing an SOC-based product that involves utilizing off-the-shelf IP. My whimsical design target is a wrist-based device that provides keyless entry and ignition for the car, control of the garage door opener, the ability to turn up/down the heat in the house remotely, and notification if we’re running low on milk. Oh yeah, and it will tell me the time.
To develop this product I need various reliable types of IP, including several processor cores, some memory, wireless connectivity design blocks, an oscillator and PLL for keeping time, a USB port for recharging, ADCs and DACs, and a bus of some kind to tie it all together. That’s just for starters, but it’s enough to prompt an online shopping trip comparable to the one described in my earlier blog about the hunt for ‘blocks of IP’ for the new bathroom installation currently underway at my house.
First and rather prosaically, I typed “what’s in an SOC” into Google. That query led me to Wikipedia, which led me to choose the list of IP described above. Naturally, your work is so much more sophisticated a process than this, but nonetheless the query allowed me to decide which pieces of semiconductor IP to go looking for. After all, the point of this exercise isn’t to design a ‘real’ chip, but to shop online for SIP and see what’s what.
The interesting thing is that I started by looking for types of memories and found myself on places like Digi-Key.com and Arrow.com. These online stores, however, are selling discrete component ICs such as a memory controller on Digi-Key made by Cypress Semiconductor for $17.86, and an EPROM on Arrow.com made by QP Semiconductor for just over $4 per unit. But I need soft IP cores that can be dropped into a single chip design, not discrete chips that can be dropped onto a board.
So starting again with Google, I looked for instructions on how to design an SOC, which lead to a Wikipedia page about soft IP and a subsequent page titled “List of semiconductor IP core vendors”. All of the usual suspects are included on that list, but surely that’s not the way people go shopping for IP online.
Or perhaps it is, but I’ve got to believe they also go to the granddaddy of them all – Design&Reuse.com. If you search about in that Grenoble-based world, it’s clear you can see hints of thousands of different IP offerings of every shape, size, and flavor from a plethora of vendors.
But if you want to find out what a block of IP costs – some memory, for example – you have to first register for the site to even be allowed to communicate with the providers. Without registering, you can sense the wide variety of IP available there, but you can’t really see who made it or have any idea of what it costs.
At the risk of sounding irreverent, isn’t that like buying your trip on Expedia rather than going directly to the airline website, and that of the hotel where you’ve decided to stay? Perhaps you start at Expedia to determine which airlines go where you want to go, and when, but to avoid having problems when changes are needed, you then buy from the airline/hotel vendors themselves so you can deal with them directly in facilitating changes.
Is that the right philosophy for shopping for IP? Go to Synopsys, or ARM, or TSMC themselves to buy cores directly, rather than accessing info about their product offerings indirectly through Design&Reuse?
Well then, how about using ChipEstimate.com as a pointer to your desired IP vendor? There you can see a lengthy list of IP partners, companies who have cataloged their products on ChipEstimate, to determine who sells what. But again, as with D&R, you have to register and make yourself known if you want to have access to any pricing information or detailed product descriptions. But at least with Chip Estimate, like with Expedia, you’ll have an idea of what’s available from which vendor before going directly to those vendors for detailed discussions.
So this is what I’ve learned so far. You can use Design&Reuse if you’re willing to reveal yourself, and similarly with ChipEstimate. Alternatively, you can access a list of semiconductor IP vendors without having to register if you start on Wikipedia and go from there.
That’s how I’m going to go about it. The next installment will tell you if it works.