For those who are interested in integrated circuits (ICs), there is another type of chip designed for specific tasks. This chip is called Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC).
Basically, an integrated circuit (IC) is a combination of an analog circuit like an amplifier and de-noising circuit, and digital blocks like arithmetic logic units, multiplexers, and registers. ICs were mostly comprised of a couple of matched transistors and then expanded to comparators, Op-amps, timers, and voltage regulators, among others.
The analog ASIC plays an essential role in life because it is responsible for the existence of portable electronic devices. Building mobile phones, MP3 players, or navigation systems without analog ASICs can make them impossible to carry around or in your pockets.
As a matter of fact, dozens of ASIC chips are inside an automobile, as they are in climate control or airbag deployment, suspension control to entertainment systems. Moreover, these chips have important roles in in-hospital medical equipment applications, home appliances, and many other personal and industrial systems.
Thus, the market for analog ASIC is so big, which can be seen from 2010 sales figures amounting to 60% of almost $37 billion sold in that year alone. Here are some of the important functions of these chips in the modern world.
Lower Assembly Cost
The integration of the components into the ASIC often comes for free and has a dramatic impact to lower the total assembly cost of the end product. Justifying the development of analog ASIC can be possible because of the potential total system cost savings.
True analog ASIC companies only employ experienced designers who are masters of their own field. Many of them have spent years at huge analog companies as they learned from industry pioneers. But mixing digital and analog circuitry into one chip might not be ideal. This is because the analog application needs designs that are application-specific, which assures 100% specification coverage.
Large Customer Base
Many semiconductor companies focus on huge customers, which might only include the privileged few. Full-service ASIC houses have their own criteria on annual volume, tooling, and minimum non-recurring engineering.
Moreover, analog generally has shown to be less susceptible to the violent supply-demand trends inherent to the semiconductor industry in general. In addition, analog chips often remain in production for more than 10 years in which analog ASIC companies spend decades to nurture these relationships for the benefit of the customers.
An advantage for the Designer
Handcrafting analog functions would allow the designer to accomplish many things. In fact, in mixed-signal design, analog circuits are designed to fill the void created using standard digital cells. This, in turn, will make better optimization of the overall silicon area utilization. Moreover, it will allow the designer to precisely determine the performance parameters of the circuit.
The analog ASIC design should be able to rise above the competition. This is due to the fact that in a cell library, the designer is limited to choose from dozens of amplifiers, converters, and voltage references in which compromise in performance is needed to accommodate the limited choices. If you are going to base your designs around the mixed-signal cell libraries, you will have the same performance specs, like those found in the library cells.
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