Learn what an ASIC is and how you can use one in your application to improve size, power, and performance.
What is an ASIC, and why is everyone using them?

By: Sam Smith                                                                                                                                                  November 10, 2016

 

An ASIC, or application-specific integrated circuit, is a microchip designed for a special application, such as a kind of transmission protocol or a hand-held computer.  You might contrast an ASIC with general integrated circuits, such as the microprocessor or random access memory chips in your PC.

ASICs can have different designs that allow specific actions to be taken inside of a particular device.  The two primary design methods are gate-array and full-custom design.


Gate-array design

In a gate-array design, non-recurring engineering costs are much lower due to the minimal design work needed to make a working chip.  Production cycles will also be much shorter since metallization is a comparatively quick process as compared to full-custom design.  In addition, gate-array designs are often larger in size, meaning a larger power requirement.

A gate-array design is a manufacturing method in which the diffused layers, transistors, and other active devices are predefined, and wafers containing such devices are held in stock prior to metallization.  Once ready for final design, the engineer will go through and open and close certain switches to cause the chip to act in the way required. 

Full-custom design

A full-custom ASIC design is slightly more complex when compared to a gate-array.  However, this increase in complexity means that the chip can do much more than its counterpart.  In many instances, the size of an ASIC can decrease dramatically in relation to a gate-array design due to the level of customization and deletion of unneeded gates.

ASICs are designed specifically for one client to provide a function required by the client’s end product.  For example, a cell phone company may design an ASIC to combine the display backlight controller with the battery charging circuit into a single IC in order to make the phone smaller.

So, now that you know the basics behind an ASIC, let’s get into why you should consider using one in your current application.

 

Reasons to use ASICs

Size

An ASIC is obviously smaller than multiple interconnected standard products on a PC board.  Having a variability in size allows the chip to be as small or as large as necessary.  This reason alone is why many electronics are shrinking in size in recent years. 

Power and Performance

Because of their small physical size, ASIC devices can use far less electrical power as compared to a collection of standard components.  In addition, an ASIC contains only the circuitry needed for the application, therefore, the chip is much more efficient due to the miniature size and power requirements.

 

IP Protection

In addition to size, power and performance, ASIC chips provide you with IP protection, unlike a standard product.  We design the chips specific to you.  This means that it is much easier to differentiate yourself from the competition, and it also creates a very high barrier to entry.

 

Competitive Edge

Although an initial investment is required to develop an ASIC, the payoff for this investment is very high.  Aside from a possible performance enhancement, a product using an ASIC requires fewer electronic components and is much cheaper to assemble.  Having fewer parts translates into higher reliability overall.  An ASIC can house many different systems on a single chip, therefore, you will be reaching out to far less vendors when looking to assemble your final product.  This means there will be less purchasing and production planning for products with many parts.

 

Smarter, Faster, More Reliable

In the end, an ASIC is a smart choice for a variety of reasons.  An ASIC can shrink your product’s size, costs can be considerably less, and you will have a chip that no one else has access to besides you.  These reasons alone should give you enough incentive to consider development of your own ASIC.  Sigenics, Inc. offers a very nifty ASIC cost calculator tool to help you assess financials behind your design and needs. 

 If you would like to learn more about how ASICs are the right choice for your application, please reach out to us at sales@sigenics.com.

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