Executive viewpoints: 2017 outlook

Semiconductor IP… and the impact of multi-die IC design

Bob SmithBob Smith, Executive Director, Electronic System Design (ESD) Alliance

In the early days of integrated circuits, it was quite a feat to produce chips that contained a few hundred transistors. Of course, that quickly gave way to chips with thousands of transistors and … Moore! Today’s largest SoCs contain an astounding 10-billion transistors.

Is the end in sight?

Some industry pundits declare that the end of Moore’s Law is upon us. I disagree. The semiconductor industry is realizing that Moore’s Law will continue on, but in different ways than previously considered. In fact, the rapid growth of semiconductor IP and new packaging technologies are catalysts enabling this shift based on a new semiconductor world view that is moving from transistor-centric to system-centric.

The emerging wave of building systems based on multi-die ICs is changing the industry’s thinking about Moore’s Law. Rather than counting the number of transistors integrated into a single die, the move to multi-die considers the functionality achieved by integrating functional building blocks instead of discrete transistors. This is Moore’s Law at work, but the atomic level is moving up a level to building blocks instead of discrete transistors.

The explosion in IoT is another key driver as it demands the integration of heterogeneous functions such as sensors/actuators, optical, analog, mixed-signal and memory components. The market size for these functions, $187 billion, is actually greater than the market for logic functions. They are also a near perfect fit for multi-die ICs since the restriction of using a single process is gone because each function or die can be implemented in the optimal process. Benefits to adopting multi-die and the advanced packaging technologies are enormous, from higher performance and 3x power reduction to overall lower cost.

In total, multi-die IC design is system design and will extend Moore’s Law because it integrates functional blocks to build a system. Semiconductor IP and advanced packaging technologies that eliminate the interconnect overhead will be the drivers for multi-die IC.

What’s required is a meeting of the minds among tool providers, designers and manufacturers to drive multi-die IC design as the way to extend the life of Moore’s Law. If the semiconductor industry agrees, design will become more system-centric as a result of these shifts and a new way of exploiting Moore’s Law.

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