Monthly Archives: June 2014

OEM Custom Silicon Solutions BOM Cost Reduction

This is a guest post by Donnacha O’Riordan, Director of Services Strategy at S3 Group

As process technology nodes advance, falling costs & increasing capacity on older nodes enable OEMs embark on custom ASIC developments to take advantage of higher levels of integration thereby realizing significant BOM savings. Never before have mixed signal ASIC developments been within reach of so many, lower volume applications.

Choosing the right partner to realize the silicon development, in a cost effective and low risk manner, is still a challenge to be overcome by OEMs.
It is not only a technical challenge however, but also one of maximizing ROI. There are a number of system architecture choices to be made when moving from a discrete and ASSP based product to a custom SoC from CPU & memory architecture choice and software implications, to discrete RF, System in Package (SiP) to RF SoC, each with their own advantages technically and in terms of ROI.

This article discusses some of the challenges and opportunities addressed by S3 Group for our OEM Customers:

  • Allow Product & Systems designers to reap the benefits of lower manufacturing costs on older process geometries
  • Maximize feature benefits, by working with a partner with a strong understanding of all the system components and of the various technology options for implementation
  • Developments are predicated on a strong and demonstrable business case
  • S3 Group provides a one-stop shop to move from PowerPoint to packaged tested parts and into production

Motivation for higher integration

The motivation for OEMs to look at a custom SoC solution can come from a number of sources, from manufacturing led “Product Cost Reduction” initiatives to R&D led “Product Innovation” initiatives.
Regardless of the motivation, the perception remains that this is a high investment, high risk approach and, while that is true at the advanced node end of the spectrum, it is not always the case when older mature process geometries are considered.

Maximizing product capability while minimizing development cost can be achieved by targeting mature process nodes, in a balance of performance and NRE.

A custom SoC development enables further value additions, such as new functionality, higher performance, lower power, simpler board level environment all of which become a competitive differentiation. CMOS process options and IP availability enable almost complete Mixed Signal functionality, and increasing RF functionality integration.

BOM Reduction

Demonstrating a clear business case and ROI is one of the first steps. In typical cases one should expect a payback period between 18 and 24 months, where the initial NRE investment in design and manufacture, is recovered through the savings realized in BOM costs. Savings then continue to accumulate over the lifetime of the product.

The advantages of a custom mixed signal SoC development go beyond just removing the cost of the parts that are integrated however. Since the system will have a significantly reduced number of parts, it leads to simpler, cheaper PCB design and smaller form factor for end product. This can have the effect of opening up new markets for the application that were previously unavailable due to the previous price point and form factor of the end product.

s3-cost reduction

New Product Development

Competitive differentiation may be enabled through additional or higher performance functionality implemented in a SoC that may not be available to competitors using standard parts.
Increasingly security and protection of IP is a concern, which is where a branded custom SoC offers compelling advantages due to the increased difficulty associated with reverse engineering a SoC.
Working jointly, system architects from S3 Group and Product / R&D engineers from our OEM customers, identify the components suitable for integration. These choices are driven by IP availability & suitability to the application in addition to licensing costs. S3 Group brings mixed signal and RF IP and SoC design experience to the equation to ensure that the best informed choices are made.

Platform development

A Platform development addresses multiple product lines with a single SoC (platform) design by enabling the use of different design and manufacturing configurations such as packaging/bond-out options or memory configurations, for example – decisions which can be evaluated jointly with our customers. In this manner a single NRE investment is made to develop a custom SoC which will service multiple product line requirements.


A custom SoC development is now realizable for applications and products, which previously could not justify the NRE investment. A high performance, mixed signal SoC development however is not a trivial development and working with an experienced and proven partner such as S3 Group significantly reduces development risk.

Tighter supply chain integration and reduced BOM part numbers all simplify OEM operations, reduce dependence on distributors and remove dependencies on older parts that may become obsolete.
Most importantly, savings realized from a BOM cost reduction, go straight to the bottom line profitability of the product, and consequently our partners.


Further Information:

How to become a Debug Ninja?

This is a guest post by Arrow Devices, that provides high-quality Design & Verification products and services for ASIC/SOC. 

Please raise your hand, if you have ever felt like putting a fork in your left eye due to debugging issues. Below is an attempt to ensure that feeling never comes back, and pave way for you to become a Debug Ninja!

So Why is Mastering Debugging Important Today?

In earlier times, debugging was something one did, but no one gave it much attention. Data was manageable, and developers didn’t pay much attention on making the process too efficient. Over the past few years, however, communication protocols have become more complex. This is true for interface protocols such as PCIE and USB as well as for bus protocols such as AXI, PLB etc. Today, RTL design and verification engineers have to sift through gigabytes of data in the form of log files and waveform dumps in order to analyze and debug a design.

By some estimates, 70% of IP design time, now-a-days, is spent on verification. A large chunk of that time (~30-40%) is spent in debugging test case failures.

The Step by Step Process to Make Debugging Easy:

So here is the good news. By following the below laid out steps, you can make your debugging process a lot more efficient.

  1. Symptom identification: Finding out what went wrong (e.g., a data integrity/protocol violation)
  2. Diagnosis: Analysis of what went wrong for symptom to occur
  3. Scenario Isolation OR hypothesis formulation: Identifying the exact sequence of events that is unique to issue under consideration
  4. Scenario conformation OR hypothesis testing: Cross checking that the identified scenario or hypothesis formulated actually resulted in the issue

Let us go through these steps more carefully, one by one:


Step 1: Symptom Identification

The first step is for the engineer to figure out what went wrong, by looking at high level symptoms. For example, did a data integrity error occur? Or was it a protocol violation? In order to be most efficient, it is important to identify correctly, the broad area of the issue first, and then systematically probe further, once the broad issue is correctly identified. Not doing this, would lead to a possible wild goose chase.


Step 2: Diagnosis

Next, the engineer needs to perform diagnostics by analyzing what went wrong for the symptom to occur. For example, did the data integrity error occur due to a data packet being dropped?


Step 3: Scenario Isolation or Hypothesis formulation

Once the engineer has correctly diagnosed the problem, he needs to isolate the scenario under which the problem occurs. If its not clear under what all scenarios the problem occurs, he needs to formulate a hypothesis about what kind of scenarios are problematic. For example, is it possible that a data packet is dropped whenever there are 2 back-to-back data packets with the same size?


Step 4: Scenario Confirmation

The engineer now needs to confirm that the scenario he has identified is indeed the problematic case. This can be done by analyzing all the errors seen and checking that the scenario hypothesis holds true. Once the scenario is confirmed, the engineer can rest assured that his fix will correctly address the bug or issue seen.

Following these steps, not only makes the debugging process more efficient, it also leads to standardization of the process across a team. As a manager, this is important, as he or she can help the team more meaningfully, if they know what stage of debugging process has been reached. It also helps in improving debugging quality.


So is This All I Need to Know?

No. Even if you have mastered the above steps, and follow them religiously, there is the problem of sifting through gigabytes of data that we mentioned earlier. A developer needs to extract relevant debug information from huge wave form dumps or log files. This is a problem. The current representations of data are not friendly for the drill down steps described above. In order to go through these steps quickly, the design engineer would need to view the data top-down. This means, the data should be available at multiple abstractions and one should be able to search, filter and mark information quickly -at the click of a button. At Arrow Devices, we saw this as an problem worth solving, and so we went ahead and developed our debugger tool – The Protocol Debug Assistant (PDA). Check out the details of this tool, on our website link here


The best way to figure out if you need a debugging tool, is to ask the following questions:


1. Does the tool help me drill down to issues top down? In other words, does it give me the option to look at data at various abstractions?

2. Does it allow me to filter and mark events, that I want to drill down to?

3. Can it be used with my current verification environment?

4. Do I need to customize it to the particular protocol I am working on?

5. Does it help standardize the debugging process across the team and share the debug knowledge?

6. Finally, does it help me reduce the time I spend on debugging? Or is it an overhead?


To read more from Arrow Devices, please visit their blog.