Move over Moore’s Law, analogue is key

Move over, Moore’s Law, meet the new market drivers, writes Ravi Subramanian, general manager, analogue and mixed-signal business, Mentor Graphics.

The semiconductor industry in undergoing tumultuous changes that are being driven by multiple forces. A look at the top 20 semiconductor companies by revenue in 2014 shows a list not so different from those advancing by Moore’s Law.

A look at the top 20 semi companies by growth rate in 2014 paints a totally different picture, with companies such as Skyworks, Bosch, NXP, Infineon, ON and Qorvo leading the pack. What’s going on?

At the heart of it, this is all about new drivers for growth: new electronic platforms such as the automobile; the cloud and what it means to datacenters and servers; and the Internet of Things which forces ultra-low-power and security to come to the fore.

The growth drivers are changing because the services and applications that electronic platforms need to support are rapidly changing. Automotive, communications, and industrial/medical markets are expected to lead the growth for semiconductors- and not the traditional computing or consumer segments.

To get a good idea of how changing services and applications can force changes in electronic platforms, consider the following two examples:

– A number of vertical markets now grouped together as the internet of things require a fundamentally different mentality in the design of products, specifically with respect to the operational modes and power consumption of the electronic platforms.

– In many cases, power consumption targets are three times to ten times lower for MCUs, application processors, and connectivity ICs providing wireless connectivity using low-power variants of today’s mainstream wide-area and local-area wireless standards.

As a result, Wi-Fi transceivers must operate with 1/10th to 1/20th the power yet offer the same processing capabilities as prior generations. Similarly, microcontrollers which must operate at three times lower power consumption level as before in order to enable new product opportunities in remote applications.

In upcoming advanced driver-assisted safety systems, automotive platforms must process images from multiple image sensors, sent via new high-speed networking interfaces, to be able to recognize and provide time-critical feedback to drivers about safety-related issues.

This gives rise to new requirements for image sensors (which have been primarily driven by the mobile phone market to date), automotive networking (which is just now meeting the world of Ethernet), and dataflow processors processing images for specialized image and pattern recognition tasks.

One of the most fundamental aspects of these new platforms is the role ICs with analogue and digital circuitry on the same die play.

Analogue and mixed-signal functionality is growing in these platforms. This is mainly for functions such as connectivity and networking, power management, sensors, application processing, and memory.

Even the most analogue-centric ICs, such as those used for automotive and industrial applications, need to incorporate digital content to work in the new integrated systems. And the innovation is occurring across process technologies.

In fact, in 2020, it is expected that 50% of the design starts will be in nodes 130nm and larger, and 30% of the design starts will use processes measuring between 28nm and 65nm.

The growth in analogue and mixed-signal content is driving new requirements for functionality, capacity, accuracy, and performance in the tools, such as circuit simulators, used to verify these designs. These new requirements are now starting to transform the strategies that EDA companies pursue to drive growth and capture market share for analogue and mixed-signal IC design.

The product requirements for circuit simulation are increasingly different for the traditional analogue IC, nanometre mixed-signal IC, SoC, and memory IC markets.

In the traditional analog IC market, which is highly fragmented across power, lighting, industrial, automotive, and RF applications, Moore’s Law is not driving the requirements.
Instead, platform control based on integration of voltage domains appears to be driving product designs.

In the nanometer mixed-signal IC market, the drivers are forcing a revolution in low-power mixed-signal MCUs and transceivers.

In the SoC market, the drivers are forcing high-speed interfaces that provide massive I/O bandwidth to service the flood of data. And in the memory IC market, DRAM is finding its way into many new server system architectures that require an unprecedented combination of tool accuracy and capacity to verify these memory circuit designs.

Services and applications drive how platforms change. Platform changes drive how analogue and mixed-signal techniques are combined. These analogue and mixed-signal changes drive new requirements in the tools needed to design and verify the operation of these ICs.

These requirements can be summarized into four main categories: electrical analysis of new physical effects, rapid verification of multi-mode programmable analogue and mixed-signal ICs, characterisation of analogue and mixed-signal IPs that are embedded into new SoCs, and performance and capacity to tackle the most complex nodes- both advanced nodes like 7nm and heterogeneous platform nodes like BCD.

To drive growth in the circuit simulation market, EDA companies must respond to the different challenges in each of the IC markets.


One comment

  1. Very interesting article. One of the best reads of analogue trends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *