How to Augment SoC Development to Conquer Your Design Hurdles

Praveen Durga, Rita Horner

Aug 16, 2023 / 5 min read

If you want to be on the cutting edge, you are going to face some challenges, especially if you are working in high-performance computing (HPC) or the data center. If you are like most engineering teams working on HPC and data center applications, you are constantly striving for higher levels of performance and greater throughput, cramming all the features that you can into multi-die systems, while keeping power and thermal profiles down. You work under intense time pressure to get to market quickly, as well as to lower costs. At the same time, there is fierce competition for top engineering talent that is in short supply. Not everybody has the internal capability to run in these highly complex environments at the speed of the latest and greatest technologies.

If this is you, how can you be on the cutting edge and stay there? SoC design services can help you. Below, we cover what you need to know about hiring design services, and why it may be the best option for your next SoC design.

soc design services

The ASIC vs. COT Model

One path for HPC and the data center is the ASIC approach, outsourcing the entire SoC development and production to an ASIC supplier. This path may seem the easiest, but it’s also the priciest. And with roughly 50% of budgets going to cooling deployed systems, the total cost of ownership in the data center is—ahem—a hot topic. Also, with an ASIC, you lose the ability to customize your development and you won’t have proprietary IP that will differentiate your design.

A second path is a customer-owned-tooling (COT) approach*, where you use a variety of suppliers and manage the process of the SoC design yourself. This is a great path, if you have the proper expertise and resources in-house and can manage perfect execution towards first-time-right silicon. But remember, a single mask for a design can be $5M or $6M and with every layer, the expense goes up. You cannot make a mistake and revise, it’s simply too costly and time consuming. The benefit of the COT model? If done well, you can deliver a competitive advantage with proprietary customizations in a cost-effective way.

We’ve worked with many customers who have never done SoC design before, such as high-end data center designers. In the past, they bought parts, systems, and boxes, and assemble them. But now, to reduce their cost and to add more of their proprietary “secret-sauce” of added value for their customers, the trend is for these businesses to define their own SoCs. This is all well and good, but SoC design has not typically been part of their core function nor expertise. To do it well in a talent-strapped, resource-thin market, they need to collaborate.

There is a path forward for these businesses and others. Hiring design services that are flexible enough to cover your resource and experience gaps, just where you need it, can give you the peace of mind of achieving first-pass silicon success. And, you’ll still own the secret sauce that makes your business unique. 

What Are SoC Design Services?

SoC Design Services allow you to take advantage of industry-leading expertise, either with portions of your design or the full implementation. You retain the proprietary design. From architecture to engineering sample, you can augment your current capabilities. Design services are particularly great when you are moving from an ASIC flow to a COT flow or migrating to the most advanced FinFet processes.

Here are some reasons why you would turn to design services for help:

1.  When you don’t have enough people with the right knowledge: You may not have enough people with the know-how, or your resources may otherwise be limited. After all, there's a shortage for engineering talent. Compound this general talent shortage with the fact that people with cutting-edge design expertise are an even more limited asset. In short, you may have a problem getting the right people for your job. Design services can fill those gaps.

2.  When a newly formed agile team is still norming and/or has unrealistic expectations or other challenges: These days, it’s not uncommon for large teams to come together for a design when they have never worked together before. Team members may be the leading designers in their field, but because the team is new, it takes time for team dynamics to normalize and reach high levels of performance. Design services can augment this agile process, providing guidance from the inception of the team to streamline the entire design journey , including managing the whole program and keeping your project on track.

3.  When you want to lower your risk implementing the latest technologies: There are more variables in today’s designs with higher levels of sensitivity. The industry is moving to ever-smaller process nodes and devices with more features, bringing more parasitic issues and design nuances. Also, you need to integrate more corner cases. Because of this, all the cycles are so much longer, especially verification. Everything is also more expensive. You cannot re- revise designs and still be able to make your time-to-market window or deliver on budget. SoC design services can help you with the upfront planning and modeling from the architecture phase onward, so you won’t have to wait for silicon to know if your device will work as intended. 

How Synopsys Can Support Your Design Team

While you can use our industry-leading IP and even our tools and tap into subcontractors to bridge your resource, experience, and knowledge gaps, you want to make sure you use the best. We often have customers who have used subcontractors for design services and call us after they’ve missed their schedule. They ask Synopsys SoC Design Services to fix the things that have gone awry—whether missing the schedule, or getting stuck somewhere, or something else.

As technologies advance, we build our tools and IP to advance with it. For example, as we enhance our tools to fit what’s coming next, we work with foundries to do IP test chips and fully characterize them over process corners. So, by the time a new product or technology is released to the market, we already have experience working with it. We build on that experience like no one else can through early adopters who come to us for guidance. We have a long track record of helping these customers release advanced products with ultimate performance in a timely manner.

In addition to our own IP, we have partnerships with third-party IP providers and deep experience working with not only our own products but with their products, too. We even help those IP providers customize their IP further. With our understanding of what’s available in the market, our team can help you:

  • Pick the right technology or IP options to customize and optimize your designs so that you can stand out in competitive markets, whether you need assistance with small blocks, an entire chip, or something in between.
  • Guide you through all of the design methodology and flows.
  • Set up processes and find standard flows for future use. 

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