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Custom ASIC: The Ultimate Guide

Imagine a world where every electronic device is tailored to its purpose with pinpoint precision. Custom ASICs, or Application-Specific Integrated Circuits, makes this a reality.

 

Custom ASICs represent a step beyond generic circuitry to meet unique demands. They offer customization levels from the architecture to the very silicon upon which they’re built.

 

This article sets out to unveil the world of Custom ASICs, from their bespoke creation to the multitude of reasons why industries choose them. We will define their costs and highlight the efficiency, expertise, and experience that go into their conception and production.

 

 

Introduction to Custom ASIC Design

Custom Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) are specialized chips designed for a specific application rather than general-purpose use. Unlike standard products, custom ASICs offer significant benefits such as reduced time to market, improved electrical performance, and power efficiency tailored for precise requirements. The journey of creating these custom chips begins with a dedicated engineering team that employs advanced Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools and design methodologies.

 

Designing a custom ASIC typically involves several steps, from defining functional blocks to the final physical layout. These steps are meticulously orchestrated by the design team to ensure the final product meets specific needs. Design effort is substantial; however, the non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost is justified by the performance gains and power consumption reductions in high production volumes.

 

Custom ASICs are essential in various fields, including automotive applications, where reliability and power efficiency are crucial. Technology companies are increasingly turning to ASICs to leverage advanced technologies for market delivery. The process of ASIC design involves close collaboration with semiconductor foundries, and it integrates memory blocks and other building blocks, previously available only as shelf components, into a single, powerful chip.

 

To harness the full potential of a custom ASIC design, it is crucial to collaborate with a reputable custom ASIC design company. These companies specialize in providing end-to-end solutions for custom ASIC development, from initial concept to final production. Click here to start your ASIC project.

 

What is a Full Custom ASIC

A full custom ASIC is a type of custom ASIC that is designed from the ground up, starting with a blank canvas: a full custom design. This means that every aspect of the chip, from the transistor layout to the interconnections between components, is carefully crafted to meet the specific requirements of the application.

 

Unlike semi-custom ASICs, which use pre-designed and pre-characterized components, a full custom ASIC allows for complete control over the chip’s architecture and functionality. This level of customization offers numerous advantages, including the ability to optimize performance, power consumption, and area utilization.

 

Full custom ASIC design involves a highly skilled team of ASIC engineers who possess a deep understanding of integrated circuit design principles. They use advanced tools and techniques to create the complex circuitry and ensure that it meets the desired specifications.

 

One of the key benefits of a full custom ASIC is its ability to achieve higher performance compared to off-the-shelf solutions or semi-custom ASICs. By tailoring the chip’s design specifically to the application’s needs, engineers can optimize its functionality, resulting in faster processing speeds and lower latency.

 

What is a Semi-Custom ASIC

 

A semi-custom ASIC, also known as a structured ASIC, is a type of custom ASIC that falls between a full custom ASIC and an off-the-shelf FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array). It offers a balance between customization and time-to-market advantages.

 

Unlike a full custom ASIC, a semi-custom ASIC starts with a partially completed chip template or “base platform” that includes common building blocks and interconnects. The designer then adds custom functionality and modifications to the template, tailoring it to the specific application requirements.

 

The advantage of a semi-custom ASIC is that it provides a faster time-to-market compared to a full custom ASIC. The base platform already includes the basic circuitry and interconnects, which can significantly reduce the initial design time. This can be especially beneficial for applications with tight deadlines or rapidly changing market conditions.

 

Another advantage of a semi-custom ASIC is its flexibility. The design team can modify and customize the base platform to meet the specific requirements of the application, while still leveraging the pre-designed building blocks. This allows for a degree of customization and performance optimization without starting from scratch.

 

However, it’s important to note that the level of customization in a semi-custom ASIC is limited compared to a full custom ASIC. While designers can add custom functionality and modifications to the base platform, there are still constraints in terms of the available building blocks and interconnects.

 

The Limitless Future of Custom ASIC Design

Custom ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) design presents a future rife with limitless possibilities for technology companies. By leveraging custom chips, these enterprises can achieve superior power efficiency and tailored electrical performance, crucial for applications in areas like automotive and Mixed-Signal Integrated Circuits.

 

 

The design journey begins with a collaborative effort between the design team and engineering team employing advanced Computer-Aided Design tools (EDA). Each step, from conceptualizing to the final physical layout, is intricately planned to minimize non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs while maximizing production volume scalability.

 

Custom ASICs also allow for a wide range inclusion of memory blocks and logic gates, forming the foundational building blocks of sophisticated circuits. By partnering with a semiconductor foundry, technology companies ensure that these custom solutions surpass the constraints imposed by off-the-shelf components, ultimately enhancing market delivery and competitive edge.

 

 

What Are Custom ASICs?

Custom ASICs, an abbreviation for Custom Application-Specific Integrated Circuits, are specialized chips designed for a specific application or task. Unlike standard products made for general use, custom ASICs provide optimized functionality tailored to meet unique requirements. These chips are typically developed by a dedicated engineering team using advanced design tools and methodologies to create a single chip with all the necessary logic gates and interconnected devices.

 

Developing a custom ASIC involves several design steps and can often include a variety of functional blocks such as memory and mixed-signal circuits. The custom nature of these chips requires a significant design effort and the use of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to ensure precise electrical performance. They are especially favored in applications like automotive systems, where power efficiency and a low power consumption footprint are critical.

 

The production of custom ASICs typically incurs a non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost, which is the upfront expense for the research and design phase. However, once the design is finalized, the same design can be reproduced at scale to meet the required production volume, potentially offering cost savings over time. Custom ASICs are fabricated by semiconductor foundries, allowing technology companies to leverage advanced technologies and achieve faster market delivery compared to using off-the-shelf components.

 

What is a Custom ASIC and what can be Customised?

A custom ASIC, or Application-Specific Integrated Circuit, is a type of semiconductor chip designed specifically for a particular use, rather than intended for general-purpose applications. Unlike standard products, custom ASICs allow for greater optimization in terms of power efficiency, electrical performance and can significantly reduce the time to market for technology companies.

 

What can be customized in a custom ASIC:

 

  • Functional Blocks: Tailor-made to perform specific functions within the chip.
  • Logic Gates: Configured to execute bespoke digital operations.
  • Interconnected Devices: Unique routing and connections between components.
  • Power Consumption: Optimized for energy efficiency, crucial in automotive applications.
  • Mixed-Signal Integrated Circuits: Integration of analog and digital circuits.
  • Memory Blocks: Custom-sized and functioning storage units within the chip.
  • Physical Layout: Specific arrangement of components to meet design criteria.

 

Developing custom ASICs involves a collaboration with an engineering team, utilizing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools and advanced design methodologies to streamline the design steps. Customization is substantial during the design phase to meet production volume and market delivery goals while minimizing both design effort and non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost. These chips often bypass the need for off-the-shelf components and are produced in partnership with a semiconductor foundry.

 

How Much does it Cost to have a Custom ASIC Made?

Custom ASIC cost can vary significantly based on several factors, including the complexity of the design, production volume, and specific requirements such as power efficiency and electrical performance. A substantial portion of the cost is attributed to non-recurring engineering (NRE) fees, which cover the design effort, testing, and setup before mass production. NRE costs can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

 

Here is an estimated custom ASIC cost breakdown for Custom ASIC development:

 

  • Design Phase: This involves the initial specification, architectural planning, and detailed design. Costs can range from $100,000 to over $1 million depending on complexity.
  • Development Tools: Advanced design tools and software are needed for simulation and verification. Licensing these tools can add tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Prototyping: Creating prototypes to test and refine the ASIC design before full-scale production can cost upwards of $50,000.
  • Production: The actual unit cost per ASIC depends greatly on the process technology and production volume. Lower volumes tend to have higher per-unit costs due to the spread of fixed costs.

 

It’s also important to consider ongoing costs for maintenance, potential redesigns, and updates that may be required throughout the product’s lifecycle. Thus, while the per-unit price might lower as production scales, the initial investment is considerable.

 

Reasons to use Custom ASICs

Custom ASICs cater to a unique set of needs that off-the-shelf components can’t fully address. They are engineered to perform set functions which makes them highly efficient in both power consumption and performance. By bypassing unnecessary features present in general-purpose ICs, custom ASICs can also lead to smaller, more compact systems. This level of optimization is particularly critical in fields that demand high reliability and stringent performance requirements, such as aerospace, medical devices, and specialized industrial applications.

 

Moreover, the custom nature of ASICs presents a formidable barrier to entry for competitors, as the functional intricacies are deeply embedded and tailored within the chip architecture. This makes reverse engineering difficult, offering a layer of intellectual property (IP) protection that standard components lack.

 

In highly competitive marketplaces, speed and uniqueness are paramount. ASICs can provide a decisive competitive edge by enabling products that stand out due to enhanced capabilities, lower power consumption, or reduced size. Such leverage can be especially vital when targeting niche markets or pioneering new technologies.

 

Developing and manufacturing custom ASICs involve navigating through non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs and production costs. A clear understanding of these expenses is essential in evaluating the feasibility and long-term benefits of investing in custom ASIC solutions.

 

Power and performance

Custom ASICs excel in their ability to deliver unparalleled power and performance tailored to the application’s needs. Having control over the chip’s design allows engineers to optimize data paths, minimize signal propagation delays, and create a balance between performance and power consumption. A custom ASIC can achieve faster processing speeds and more efficient operations than comparative off-the-shelf solutions, which need to cater to a broader range of use-cases.

 

For instance, Mixed-Signal Integrated Circuits, which contain both analog and digital components, can be fine-tuned within custom ASICs for specific signal processing tasks that would be less efficient in separate standard components. These efficiencies are not just theoretical – they translate to real-world benefits, such as extended battery life in mobile devices or increased processing throughput in data centers.

 

IP Protection

One of the compelling reasons for opting for custom ASICs is the enhanced IP protection it offers. By developing a specialized chip, the functionality can be embedded at a hardware level, making it inherently more secure against copying or reverse engineering. This is particularly significant for technology companies that view their product’s unique features as a core competitive advantage. The ASIC serves not only as a tool for product performance but also as a safeguard for proprietary technology and processes.

 

Competitive edge

Technology companies are in a constant race to outperform their competitors and deliver superior products to the market. With a custom ASIC, a product can have a competitive edge thanks to improved efficiency, reduced physical footprint, and the capability to execute proprietary algorithms that are not possible with standard components.

 

Additionally, custom ASICs can shrink the time to market by integrating multiple functions into a single chip, simplifying product design, and speeding up system integration. This means products can reach customers faster, with features that are optimized for performance and not readily available from competitor offerings.

 

NRE and Production costs defined

Navigating the financial aspect of custom ASIC development involves understanding two key types of costs – NRE and production costs. Non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs are one-time expenses incurred during the design phase, including research, design, prototyping, and initial testing. These costs are independent of the number of units produced.

 

Production costs, on the other hand, are recurring expenses associated with the manufacture of each ASIC unit. They include the cost of raw materials, fabrication, packing, testing, and quality assurance. Production costs generally decrease per unit as volume increases, benefiting from economies of scale.

 

Production

The transition from design to production is critical in custom ASIC development. Once the initial NRE phase concludes, the ASIC enters the production phase. The partnership with a semiconductor foundry becomes crucial here because they provide the technical capability and capacity to manufacture the ASICs at scale.

 

Production volume plays a significant role in cost-efficiency. For low-volume production, the per-unit cost remains high due to the fixed costs spread over fewer units. Conversely, high-volume production can significantly lower the per-unit cost, making the economics more favorable. It’s also during this phase that companies can explore additional optimizations in manufacturing processes to further reduce costs and improve yields.

 

NRE Cost Components

The primary components of NRE costs in ASIC development include:

 

  • Design Engineering: Expenditure for the engineering team to develop the chip architecture and design.
  • Design Tools: Costs for Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and other design methodologies and tools needed for the design steps.
  • Prototyping: Expenses to create and test several iterations of the ASIC to ensure the final product will meet specifications.
  • Testing and Verification: Costs associated with ensuring the chip’s functionality and performance before large-scale production.

 

Production Cost Components

Production costs consist of multiple factors which can include:

 

  • Materials: The raw materials required to build the ASIC including the semiconductor substrate and any additional elements for doping or layering.
  • Fabrication: Costs from the semiconductor foundry for the actual production of the ASIC, often influenced by the technology node and complexity of the chip.
  • Packaging: Expenses for protecting the chip and preparing it for integration into the final product.
  • Quality Assurance and Testing: Costs to ensure each chip meets the required specifications and performance standards post-manufacturing.
  • Logistics: Shipping and handling fees for the distribution of the ASICs.

 

Ensuring that each step is cost-optimized without sacrificing quality is crucial for maintaining a competitive advantage while leveraging the benefits of custom ASICs.

 

Custom ASIC chips – efficiency, expertise, and experience from start to finish

Custom ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) chips represent technological excellence tailored to specific needs. These chips, unlike standard products, cater to specialized applications across various sectors, including automotive, where they maximize power efficiency and reduce power consumption.

 

The design of custom ASICs leverages a dedicated engineering team, employing advanced design tools and methodologies to progress through design steps efficiently. This collaboration ensures a seamless transition from concept to market delivery, minimizing time to market. The production volume is carefully managed, balancing design effort with non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost, an investment that pays dividends in performance and integration.

 

These chips are composed of functional blocks, such as memory and logic gates, all meticulously arranged in a physical layout for optimal electrical performance. The symbiosis of interconnected devices on a single chip underscores the sophistication of custom ASICs.

 

Utilization of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and close collaboration with semiconductor foundries ensures high-quality production, with scalability from prototype to high-volume manufacturing. Hence, technology companies leveraging custom ASICs gain a competitive edge with advanced technologies that outperform shelf components.

 

Key Components of Custom ASIC Development:

 

  • Design Team: Experts in custom ASIC design.
  • Design Tools: Software and methods for design and simulation.
  • Efficiency: High power efficiency with reduced consumption.
  • NRE Cost: Investment balanced against production and design.
  • Market Delivery: Shortened development cycle for faster deployment.
  • Applications: Mixed-Signal Integrated Circuits widely used in automotive and other industries.