The demand for anywhere, anytime, continuous connectivity is pushing us closer and closer to ubiquitous computing, as discussed last week. But there is more to this positive disruptive event than the incremental steps to fully mobile computing capabilities and the broad market sector embracing of the trend.
SoCs and SiPs take center stage – commoditization
The drive today on the component side is to design increasingly powerful chip architectures in smaller form factors that consumer less power, have reduced power dissipation issues, and are architected to provide increased speed and performance (see Smith's discussion in this recent EBN article). What we are seeing in response is the increase in System in Package (SiP) and continued progression toward System on Chip (SoC) architectures that provide just these capabilities.
As the competition for market share at the end-device point increases, and the design and manufacturing costs for producing the latest, complex, highly integrated chips are also increasing dramatically. Unfortunately, the combination of manufacturing costs with consumer demand for better devices at increasingly favorable prices is problematic and is leading to various supply chain strategies to balance price points with the latest chip technology in mobile devices.
While SoCs are certainly the goal, the cost of production for SoCs is higher than SiPs. As a result, while at the R&D side SoC design development continues, the present market is better able to support the SiP architected solutions to provide the features, processor capabilities, and average selling prices (ASPs) that the end-device market will support. However, as 3D stacking continues to improve and mature, it is highly anticipated that we are coming closer (finally) to a feasible market point for 3D ICs.
Supply chain and chip changes go hand-in-hand
The critical element in complex chip packages is, of course, the deeper integration at the design stages of software (operating systems [OS]) and hardware. Presently, most complex chips, particularly the multi-core CPUs, are controlled by symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) architecture.
The recent supply chain changes (mergers and acquisitions) and the leading edge, chip design change, are correlated events and are simultaneously driven by cost and by continuous demand for ever-evolving, M2M mobile solutions, with a focus on leveraging cloud computing (cf. this recent article in Chip Design Magazine by Jamie Little, ESD at Mentor Graphics).
Where are these design changes and market strategies leading us? At the forefront is a new, commoditizing era for SoCs. Given the design requirements for mobile solutions, and given the decline and shift away from the hardware and firmware solutions for PCs due to the end-device declines, the opportunity and the strategic business value to push SoC designs into more flexible, more commoditized levels are dawning.
To read more about these supply chain and chip design changes that are deeply impacting multiple aspects of the semiconductor and electronics industry, read the latest issue of Smith's MarketWatch Quarterly. The latest issue was sent last week to subscribers (free here), and will be available mid-April publically, provides in depth analysis from chip design to market sector strategies and opportunities through accessible understanding of these major trends affecting our industry.