IBM, Xilinx shake up art of chip design with new custom product

6/25/2002 - IBM and Xilinx, Inc. said they have signed an agreement that could help custom chip designers shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off the cost of creating future chips.

Under the agreement, IBM has licensed field programmable gate array (FPGA) technology from Xilinx for integration into IBM's recently-announced Cu-08 application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) product offering. Cu-08 will support circuits as small as 90 nanometers — less than 1/1,000th the width of a human hair.

The news underscores the companies' commitment to a technology relationship aimed at bringing innovative and flexible new "hybrid" chips to market that combine the best attributes of standard ASIC and flexible FPGA technology for use in communications, storage, and consumer applications.

Engineers working on complex chip designs have been clamoring for ways to achieve high levels of integration yet still have the ability to change "on the fly" late in the design cycle. Combining an FPGA—circuits that can be configured by the customer to perform a wide variety of digital electronic circuit functions—with a standard ASIC, gives these designers, all on one chip, the flexibility of the FPGA with the density, performance and overall cost advantages of an ASIC.

"Savings here could be dramatic," said Michel Mayer, general manager, IBM Microelectronics Division. "When an ASIC takes on more function, you can reduce cost by eliminating one, two or even more separate chips. With this technology, customers would be able to tweak designs and integrate new changes immediately, eliminating the need to restart a whole new design cycle, bringing tremendous time-to-market advantages."

Mayer said changes that force an additional chip prototype can easily cost hundreds of thousands of extra dollars and can stretch design cycles out for several additional months. "This approach is expected to change the landscape entirely," he said.

Cu-08, with as many as eight layers of copper wiring separated by an advanced low-k insulation, will support up to 72 million wireable "gates", or basic logic circuits, for high-complexity IC solutions. With the's announcement, a certain portion of these gates, generally between 20,000 and 100,000, though as high as 400,000 ASIC gates, could be dedicated to one or more of the FPGA cores on the ASIC.

"We've improved upon our delivery of programmable hardware by allowing reconfiguration using the same chip. Flexibility is the beauty of combining ASIC and FPGA technology," said Wim Roelandts, president and CEO at Xilinx. "Our latest agreement with IBM is a natural extension of and a significant milestone in our existing relationship that allows us to address new opportunities like the high-end ASIC market."

Even after the custom chip is in an OEM's product, the manufacturer of that product can add to its function, doing so simply, easily and effectively either using on-chip resources or a traditional programming approach. A good example would be in the communication industry, where various protocol and interface specifications are constantly evolving. Cell phones, printers, set top boxes and other consumer electronic products also are well-suited for this new approach.

IBM, the number one ASIC manufacturer worldwide, and Xilinx, the number one PLD manufacturer worldwide with more than 15 years experience in FPGA design tools, have a productive business relationship. IBM supplies embedded PowerPC® processors for the Xilinx FPGA device and Xilinx in March of this year signed a high-volume, multi-million dollar manufacturing agreement with IBM to manufacture the Xilinx Virtex-II ProTM semiconductor products using IBM's advanced 130 nanometer and 90 nanometer copper-based chip-making technology.

The new FPGA cores, now in development, are expected to be available from IBM embedded in an ASIC in early 2004, following IBM's full release of its standard-setting Cu-08 technology.

About Xilinx
Xilinx is the worldwide leader in programmable logic solutions. Additional information about Xilinx can be found at

About IBM
IBM Microelectronics — named the number one worldwide vendor of ASICs by Gartner, Inc. for three years in a row — is a key contributor to IBM's role as the world's premier information technology supplier. The division develops, manufactures and markets state-of-the-art semiconductor technologies, products, packaging and services. Its superior integrated solutions can be found in many of the world's best-known electronic brands. For more information on IBM's ASIC products and services, visit:

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