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What is an ASIC Design Services Company and How to Choose one?

October 01, 2018, anysilicon

If you are reading this article it’s probably because you’ve came to realize that an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) might give your company or your product a massive edge in the market. There are many reasons to use an ASIC in your product: It can minimize your product size and make your product smarter and it can also reduce your product’s power consumption while increasing its performance. If you have decided to use an ASIC but you don’t have the design skills or the resources– you may want to outsource the ASIC design activities to an external company: an ASIC design services company.

 

Many old CPU chips and obsolete computer processors as background

 

10 years ago, I was an ASIC manager in a small company, where we developed medical systems. Each product had 2-3 ASICs. We typically outsourced one of the ASICs to an external ASIC design company due to resource problem. Choosing the right ASIC design company was a big issue for us because we knew very well how long was an ASIC development cycle and we could not afford any errors that would cause a product shipment delay. Our deadlines were set in stone and we wanted to choose the best ASIC design house that we could afford. Some team members wanted to work with a local ASIC company to save travel time and avoid communication problems. Other members preferred seeking an off-shore team that had proven experience with developing ASICs for medical applications. So, as you can see, there are multiple considerations when selecting an ASIC design services partner.

 

In this paper, I’ve assembled some guidelines on how to select an ASIC design services company that can meet your requirements perfectly.

 

Towards a Better ASIC

 

You may already ask yourself “how do I get a better ASIC?”, the answer I always give is “start with knowing your customers better”. Because the more you know your customers and their pains the more you will be accurate with defining your ASIC. A typical ASIC lifetime is 5-10 years, so while you create your ASIC requirement specifications you need to consider your customers need now and in the future. The more you will be out of your office talking to customers – the more you will know about their needs and requirements. A great ASIC strategy is ultimately about getting closer to what any customer wants: solving a problem better than before, with greater convenience, at a lower Price. Any ASIC strategy that does based on this is just a distraction.

 

What is an ASIC design services company?

 

An ASIC design services company is a company that offers ASIC development services. The company consists of engineers that have experience in designing ASICs and can undergo ASIC development services for small or large ASICs. Some ASIC design companies can offer ASIC manufacturing services as well.

 

What services does an ASIC design company offer?

 

Depending on your project needs, an ASIC design company can offer: converting a specification document into a working ASIC. The company can support either an entire project or a small block development. Here is a general list of services one can obtain from an ASIC design services company:

 

  • ASIC feasibility study
  • Architecture/concept design
  • Technology selection
  • Full ASIC development
  • Block/IP level ASIC development
  • IP integration
  • ASIC simulation
  • ASIC verification
  • ASIC qualification
  • ASIC manufacturing
  • ASIC support & upgrades

 

What type of tools and languages an ASIC design company uses?

 

Designing an ASIC requires specific expertise and full control over programming languages and development tools e.g. EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tools. EDA tools are software tools used to design ASICs. The following is a list of programming languages and popular development tools available in the market today.

 

Programming Languages:

VHDL, Verilog and System Verilog.

 

ASIC Development Tools:

Synopsys

Cadence

Mentor

Silvaco

 

What type of ASIC expertise the ASIC design house has?

 

ASIC expertise is without question one of the major decision criteria when selecting a vendor. You want to work with an ASIC design team that undertook similar design projects before starting to work on your project.  If you were to develop a WiFi chip, it’s best if you choose an ASIC design company that has experience in this area (wireless). You should never use a high-voltage design team to develop a wireless chip and vice versa.

 

The following is a list of ASIC “domains” we found useful in our search process, there a many more domains, so please use this list as a baseline to create your own shortlist:

 

Market Requirements:

 

Automotive ASICs – developing a chip for the automotive industry requires an automotive certified ASIC design flow and understanding of various safety standards. Automotive is not a technical requirement, therefore it can apply to any of the technical expertise categories below.

 

Medical ASICs – Developing a chip for the medical market may requires compliance to some standards related to health and safety.

 

Technical Expertise:

 

High Voltage ASICs – Today, anything above +5V is considered high voltage. A few examples of ASICs in this domain: LED drivers, power devices, power management chips or any design that uses +5V or higher.

 

Wireless (RF) ASICs – Any chip that has a transmitter or a receiver would be considered as a wireless chip. For example: WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID/NFC or any chip that has high speed interfaces such as: PCIe, SERDES etc.

 

Low Power ASICs – If your ASIC is deployed in a battery-operated product or a power sensitive product you’ll need to find an IC design company that has experience in designing ICs for low power (or: ultra-low power).

 

Digital ASICs – Purely digital chips.

 

Analog ASICs – Purely analog chips.

 

Mixed Signal ASICs – A chip that consists of both analog and digital content. For example: an IoT chip that has a CPU and a wireless or sensor interface.

 

Superhero kid wearing boxing gloves against blue sky background. Girl power and feminism concept

 

Conclusions and next steps

 

Designing an ASIC requires specific expertise both in ASIC development process and in your application area. It’s only through precise execution with right ASIC design services partner you will be able to assure a reliable, bug free solution. When you use AnySilicon’s search tool, try to search for the keywords that are within your ASIC application area, this will help you get the most relevant ASIC design companies.

 

It all starts with selecting the right ASIC partner.

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