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RapidChip to speed up chip customisation

Hardware manufacturers will be soon able to order custom chips for electronic devices more quickly and cheaply than with existing design and order processes.

Semiconductor specialist LSI Logic is launching the RapidChip platform with the aim of cutting the cost and time it takes to produce custom chips.

Custom chips are used in just about all electronic devices on the market, including items such as DVD players and set-top boxes. There are generally two types of custom chip designs: field-programmable gate array (FPGA) and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC).

FPGA chips can be customised by a user after the chip has been delivered and are generally designed, manufactured and delivered in less time, but cost more per unit, than ASICs. ASICs are made specifically for a device or application, such as a PDA, and are less expensive per unit but more complex and require a longer development cycle.

Normal design cycles for custom chips can run anywhere from nine to 15 months, depending on the method used, said Rich Wawrzyniak, senior analyst at research company Semico Research. "With a design cycle that long, you might be missing your market window," he said.

However RapidChip will enable manufacturers to design and deliver chips in six months, according to a spokesperson from LSI. RapidChip will also lower unit prices to 10% of complex FPGA designs and total costs should be about 20% of ASIC manufacturing costs, the spokesperson said. Most of the cost-savings will be achieved by reducing nonrecurring engineering charges, Wawrzyniak said.

RapidChip will also help LSI to be ready to meet increasing demand for a third type of chip design known as application-specific standard products (ASSPs), Jordan Selburn, principal analyst at market analysis company iSuppli, said. "Consumer chips are becoming highly standards-driven and people who build ASSPs could use RapidChip as a jumping-off point," he said.

Through LSI's RapidChip programme the company's customers can license its CoreWare intellectual property for chip designs or choose to have LSI manufacture the chips at its Oregon, USA, facility.

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