Semiconductor IP (Intellectual Property) Core – An Introduction

November 02, 2017, anysilicon

Sometimes called IP core or IP block, semiconductor intellectual property core is an integrated circuit or block, cell, or logic that is reusable that provides a design which is the intellectual property of its creator or party. The term itself comes from the source code copyright or licensing of the patent that is part of the design itself.


As part of ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) or FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), IP cores are often the building blocks of the design itself. One can license the use of the IP core to another party or not.


First developed in the 1990s, the licensing of IP cores or blocks became common place in chip designs. There are companies which have developed this product and license them out as part of their business efforts. The most common companies that license IP cores are as follows;


  • ARM Holdings
  • Synopsys Inc.
  • Cadence Design Systems


You’ll find many IP cores used in soft microprocessor designs that range from the old 8-bit versions up to 64-bit processors. In addition, they are licensed for a wide variety of peripheral controllers which includes USB, LCD display, SDRAM, PCI Express, and more.


IP Core Types


There are two separate types of cores used in the creation of semiconductor intellectual property core products which each having its own specific use.


Hard Core:


These cores are often used for lower-level design, such as mixed-signal and analog logic in terms of their description. They are called hard cores because the function of the chip cannot be modified in any meaningful way by their designers once it has been created. It must follow its design process so that it cannot be changed when moving from one process to another.


Soft Core:


These are generally crafted as synthesizable cores, often provided with Verilog or VHDL in terms of their hardware description. You can view them like high-level languages in terms of computer programming. They are flexible enough to be changed in terms of their designs, thus the use of the word “soft” in their description.


IP Hardening


This is a formula that uses proven designs, so they can quickly be sent into the marketplace. If, for example, a DSP processor was developed using soft core IP blocks, it may be used in a different format using other technologies. In other words, what was developed for one use may be used in other applications even if the cores are soft.


There is little doubt that semiconductor intellectual property core products will be used for the foreseeable future given their inherent flexibility in the marketplace.


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