Tips and Tricks: Help for ASIC design

When considering a new application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design, consider the role analog functions will play in its deployment. To minimize risk, consider these six tips for ASIC design.


Consider total system cost, before and after ASIC integration. Courtesy: JVD Inc.When considering a new application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design, consider the role analog will play in its deployment. To minimize risk, choose your ASIC development partner carefully. Many times, basic mixed-signal ASIC design skills will be insufficient. Always seek out an analog ASIC partner with the right analog design skills and experience to match the application. Six key points follow.

1. It is easy to integrate complex analog functions into an ASIC. Don’t limit yourself to a mixed-signal ASIC supplier that uses analog blocks from a library. Libraries limit the creativity and functionality that you can integrate. Use a company that has extremely well-experienced analog engineers with a history of invention (patents).

2. Mixed-signal does not mean the same thing as analog. Mixed-signal implies lots of digital and a little analog. Review the offerings of many so-called mixed-signal companies: Analog is more-or-less an afterthought for them. Industrial controls, sensor interfaces, and the like are primarily analog functions. Use analog capability to solve analog problems.

Using standard mixed-signal cells may not produce desired results for analog ASIC design. Courtesy: JVD Inc.3. You don’t need to be making an iPhone to afford an analog ASIC. After amortizing the tooling and nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs over the lifetime expected volume, you may be surprised by the real savings you can achieve. Analog integration is easy for experienced companies.

4. Using existing IP from analog cell libraries usually means you must compromise the performance of your product. Refer to rule #1. Libraries contain basic blocks that solve basic problems. If you need an instrumentation amplifier with a precise gain of 97.3 in your ASIC system, forget it if your supplier is using cell libraries. Custom analog design will assure the best end-product solution.

Custom analog content assures 100% specification coverage by the first tape-out in analog ASIC design. Courtesy: JVD Inc.5. If you spend the money for an ASIC, demand product differentiation. Cell libraries are a great way to ensure your product is no better than that of your competition (who probably used the same cell library as supplier). How can you be better?

6. Know when to say “no.” There is an economic balance when defining analog ASICs: a balance between cost and adding too much low-value functionality to the design. A good analog ASIC company will guide you through this carefully. Bigger is not always better.

- Bob Frostholm is director of sales and marketing, JVD Inc., San Jose, Calif.; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media, Control Engineering, 

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