Intel buys eASIC because FPGAs aren't always the answer

Chipzilla wants to stick its nose into yet more sections of semiconductor design cycles

Intel has acquired fabless designer eASIC, a specialist in the structured ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) business.

eASIC's technology gives Chipzilla an intermediate technology between ASICs and the FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) segment Intel entered in late 2015 when it acquired Altera.

The reconfigurability of an FPGA becomes less important to many products over time – designs become settled and bugs get patched – and at that point, the vendor prioritises performance and power consumption instead.

That's the portfolio gap Intel wants to plug with eASIC, since it gives Chipzilla a way to capture programming logic customers throughout the lifecycle of their products.

Family

eASIC was founded in 2002 to ship an ASIC core aimed at third party system-on-chip developers. These days, its focus is a family of platforms called Nextreme, which it says combines ASIC devices' low unit cost and high performance with familiar FPGA design flows.

The company's specialty is “single via” configuration – to relieve the heavy configuration load in ASIC design, its Nextreme devices are programmed using one “via layer” as an interconnect mask, to replace manual design work.

Dan McNamara, corporate veep and general manager of Intel's Programmable Solutions Group blogged last week that FPGA are popular among customers who want to get new product designs to market quickly – the target for the Altera business.

eASIC will be tucked into McNamara's business, to help meet customer requirements for “time-to-market, features, performance, cost, power and product life cycles”.

Automated

In particular, McNamara wrote, the technology will be important in Internet of Things, 4G, and 5G products, as well as providing customers “a low-cost, automated conversion process from FPGAs (including competing FPGAs) to structured ASICs”.

McNamara added: “Longer term, we see an opportunity to architect a new class of programmable chip that takes advantage of Intel’s Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology to combine Intel FPGAs with structured ASICs in a system in package solution.”

eASIC last came to our attention in 2013, when Seagate tapped the company to support its move into flash-based storage. ®




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