Taher Madraswala started his career at Intel designing microprocessors and later overseeing ASIC development before joining Open-Silicon at its inception. During his 25 year semiconductor career Taher has experienced more than 300 tapeouts across a wide variety of applications.
Today Open-Silicon applies an open business model that enables the company to uniquely choose best-in-industry IP, design methodologies, tools, software, packaging, manufacturing, and test capabilities. The company has partnered with over 150 companies ranging from large semiconductor and systems manufacturers to high-profile start-ups, and has shipped over 120 million ASICs to date.
How do you view the current state of the ASIC market?
We believe we are at a real crossroad of choices that the industry will make on custom silicon. While Networking, Telecom, Storage and Computing (NTSC) applications are pushing the performance envelope with leading edge process technologies, mixed signal/ IoT applications are leveraging the mature process technologies that are optimized for low power applications. Even though many platform designers will want to create a differentiation with custom hardware, the rising cost of masks and wafers may make them rethink. However, ASIC enabled product differentiation provides a competitive advantage for many applications. Those who run the race of performance, power and product differentiation to distinguish their solutions will continue investing in ASICs.
What do you see as barriers to growth and innovation?
Lack of appetite to fund new architectures in silicon and a shrinking ecosystem of IP providers. To overcome this barrier, Open-Silicon has joined forces with Silicon Catalyst, which is an incubator for semiconductor solution startups to enable them to increase silicon innovation opportunities and pursue big ideas at a much lower cost through strategic partners. Reducing upfront costs enables startups to become higher value investments. Follow-on funding then leads to true innovation and value creation.
What kinds of design/technology innovations do you think are the biggest game changers, and why?
There are two. One is ASIC development platforms. These platforms can speed custom design while retaining the ability to differentiate. Creating ASIC platforms requires thinking like a system company, or even like a startup, and requires the consideration of end use cases.
The other is packaging technology, specifically system in a package (SiP) and 2.5D. These will have a large impact on the future of our industry by creating a new wave of system integration techniques that will exploit the benefits of the footprint compression that these packaging technologies provide.
How is Open-Silicon helping to bring these innovations to fruition?
We are investing in ASIC development platforms for emerging applications. Our Specification-to-Chip IoT ASIC Platform is a perfect example. Open-Silicon’s IoT platform includes pre-designed Register-Transfer Level (RTL) field-proven components along with a support ecosystem of software and services for a variety of protocols, operating systems and analytics. The design is scalable and allows for variations in hardware/software partitioning, as well as the integration of custom IP. With the hardware blocks already designed and the associated software already developed, the project can begin at a point that is months ahead of a full custom design.
We are also aggressively investing in solving the die-to-die and processor-to-memory links with internally developed IP, such as our High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) total solution and interposer technology development to support the SiP and 2.5D technologies.
Open-Silicon provides full turnkey ASIC solutions translating customer ideas into real silicon. Why is this significant?
The industry is transitioning very quickly from innovating at the hardware level to innovating at the application level. By providing expertise that can translate ideas into real silicon, we encourage and help innovators spend more of their time in listening to their customers rather than building and managing infrastructure to implement their ideas. From self-driving cars to virtual reality, the inventors and idea managers should invest their time into defining ground-breaking concepts. We want to help revive innovation by allowing dreamers to think and envision, rather than just manage.
What advancements in technologies, like 2.5D and HBM, is Open-Silicon working on that you would like to share with SemiWiki subscribers?
Open-Silicon made an early investment in 2.5D, which has allowed us to offer an ASIC package with integrated 3D memory stacks using silicon interposer 2.5D technology. The result is higher performance, lower power and a smaller form factor system — a three-way win. 2.5D and 3D stacking creates ways to mix and match chip components, meaning products can be divided into multiple dies. Some functions can be at a less expensive process node, or mixed with other functions that require a high frequency and/or low power.
Another significant advancement is Open Silicon’s HBM IP subsystem, which enables 1024-bit wide memory paths to ASICs using a 2.5D SiP solution. ASIC applications in networking, deep learning, virtual reality, gaming, cloud computing and data centers can improve their access to memory by applying this HBM SiP approach along with the necessary IP and JEDEC-compliant HBM memory chips, which come in stacked-die 3D versions.
What advice would you give to students or to those just entering the field of chip design engineering?
This is one of the most exciting times to be innovating with semiconductors. Never has there been more focus on the ability to interface machines with human users. Mega-trend opportunities in IoT, biotech, wearables, energy, autonomous vehicles and mobile will all have new semiconductor innovation at their core. You are joining a workforce that will continue to profoundly change the lives of humans, and that is both exciting and extremely rewarding.