SoC design keeps getting more expensive, but why?

August 18, 2011 — Silicon design costs are rising, hampering growth even, but it’s the software design costs — not investments in silicon design — that are the major expense in SoC creation, says market analyst firm Semico Research Corp. Design has taken a turn for complexity and longer cycle times.

SoC designs are increasing in complexity, with longer design cycle times. This delays and prevents, to some degree, architectural refreshes by silicon designers.

Total SoC design costs increased 39% from the 32nm node to the 28nm node and are expected to increase 29% again at the 22nm node. Total SoC silicon design costs increased 35.7% at the 28nm node. Total Software design costs increased 42.5% at the 28nm node and are forecast to show a CAGR of 138.9% through the 14nm node.

Advanced Performance Multicore SoCs represent the most expensive silicon designs with Value Multicore SoCs and Basic SoCs exhibiting lower design costs. Derivative SoC silicon designs allow designers to accomplish their solutions at a fraction of the cost compared to first time efforts at the same process node when it first becomes commercially available.

Costs for an Advanced Performance Multicore SoC design, continuously done at the 45nm node, will experience a negative CAGR of 12.5% by the time the 14nm process geometry becomes commercially available, showing that subsequent designs at the same node become less expensive over time.

28nm silicon with a $20.00 ASP will have to ship 6.521M units to reach the breakeven point.

EDA vendors are undertaking initiatives to create tools allowing software designers to reduce design costs and more fully integrate their efforts with silicon designers.

Semico Research Corp. released "SoC Silicon and Software Design Cost Analysis: Changes in Perspective, SC102-11, August 2011" to analyze this trend. The report compiles forecasts for SoC silicon design costs and software design costs from the 90nm node through the 14nm node, focusing on Advanced Performance Multicore SoCs, Value Multicore SoCs and Basic SoCs. Categories of effort with definitions for silicon and software designs are established with a forecast given at each node for the three types of SoC silicon. A forecast for Derivative SoC design costs at the 28nm node from 2011 through 2016 is included.

Semico is a semiconductor marketing & consulting research company. For information on the SoC Silicon and Software Design Cost Analysis, email [email protected]

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