Start-up SoCs on FD-SOI – Final Highlights from the Silicon Valley SOI Symposium (Part 3)


Some really innovative start-ups presented chips they’re doing on FD-SOI at the SOI Consortium’s 2018 SOI Symposium in Silicon Valley. We’ll cover those here in Part 3  of ASN’s coverage, as well as a presentation on China by wafer-maker Simgui and the final panel discussion.

BTW, if somehow you missed my coverage of the morning sessions about very cool new products and projects from NXP, Sony, Audi, Airbus and Andes Technology, be sure to click here to read it. And in the afternoon the foundry partners provided excellent insight into who’s designing chips on FD-SOI, and VLSIresearch explained why. You can read that here.

Some of the presentations are posted on the SOI Consortium Events page – but some won’t be. Either way, I’ll cover them here.

Start-ups

Ineda Systems began as an ADAS start-up, and are now working on developing low-power SoCs for use in consumer and enterprise applications. They’re using FD-SOI for their current family of chips. SVP Ramkumar Subramanian emphasized that NRE costs are really important for smaller designs. 22FDX, he said, enabled them to move from 40nm, and ramp to larger volumes.

In February, GreenWaves Technologies, a fabless semiconductor startup designing disruptive ultra-low power embedded solutions for image, sound and vibration AI processing in sensing devices, announced its GAP8 IoT application processor. GAP8 evaluation boards can now be ordered. The GAP8 agile power management architecture combined with IOT low duty cycling is a perfect fit for FDSOI processes. CEO Loic Lietar talked about how it would be used in AI applications at the very edge, wherein only the necessary data should be uploaded to the cloud.

Also in February, Dream Chips’ announced that its ADAS SoC fabbed in GlobalFoundries’ 22FDX (FD-SOI) technology was posting record power efficiency (you can read more about it in ASN’s coverage at the time here.) Dream Chips is Germany’s largest independent Engineering Service Provider. At the symposium, CEO Jens Benndor’s talked about their roadmap.

(Courtesy: eVaderis, SOI Consortium)

eVaderis CEO Jean Pascal Bost talked about how data-intensive IoT applications are enabled with FD-SOI and embedded magnetoresistive non-volatile memory (eMRAM) technology. You can get the slides from his talk here. eVaderis has eflash-like and eSRAM-like eMRAM IP that covers most MCU applications. They also have an eMRAM compiler tool and high-value-added IP for 22FDX. They foresee impressive power savings at the system level with body biasing: 25x this year and up to 45x in 2020, so that intelligence can be brought to IoT. In February they announced that they are co-developing an ultra-low power MCU reference design using GF’s eMRAM technology on the 22FDX® platform. And in March eVaderis and Mentor/Siemens announced that eVaderis proprietary Magnetic Tunnel Junction (MTJ) model would be co-optimized with AFS to speed-up simulations and generations of embedded MRAM IPs and compiler products with good accuracy.An 22FDX MCU reference design project is underway, with tape-out in July ’18.

Reduced Energy Microsystems (REM) CEO William Coven talked about realizing near-threshold computing with 22FDX and low-power memories. REM has two products on 22FDX: their Neuron Vision SoC and 64-bit RISC-V IP cores. 22FDX, he says, has been fantastic.

Simgui

Jeffrey Wang, the CEO of wafer-maker Simgui looked at why China is promoting its IC industry. (In the SOI ecosystem, Simgui is particularly known for its RF-SOI wafers, which it produces using Soitec’s Smart CutTM process.) This was more of an overview talk, not necessarily specific to the SOI ecosystem, but certainly interesting.

In terms of worldwide semiconductor sales, he said, about half end up in China. The CICF – aka the Big Fund – is currently running at about $74 billion. Having realized that mergers & acquisitions would not solve the problem, they’ve opened a second round, targeting another $160 billion.

China’s two biggest innovation success stories are Huawei (with its Kirin processor), and China Rail, which is now a global Fortune 500 company. The CAGR for the China semiconductor industry is 19%, though they need 20% to reach their goals.

IC design is a particularly successful area, posting a CAGR of 29%, with two players in China in the top 10 worldwide. Packaging and assembly/test are also very strong. Zing is working on increasing the supply of 300mm silicon wafers, while Simgui is expanding in both 200 and 300mm capex, due to “big demand”, he said.

Panel Discussion

SOI Symposium Panel Discussion: (left to right): Giorgio Cesana (Co-Director SOI Consortium), Dave Eggleston (VP GF), Tim Saxe (CTO, Quicklogic), Wayne Dai (CEO, Verisilicon), Samir Patel, (CEO Sankalp Semi), Kelvin Low (VP, ARM), Mahesh Tirupattur (EVP, Analog Bits)

The day wrapped up with an excellent panel discussion moderated by SOI Consortium Executive Co-Director Giorgio Cesana. Here are a few of the observations made by the panelists.

QuickLogic CTO Tim Saxe said that FD-SOI made their designs more compact. With FD-SOI for FPGAs, you’ve got one set of IP, and you can decide at runtime where you’re going for low power or high performance. With a lot of power domains, you see the benefits at the system level.

GF VP Dave Eggleston said they’re seeing early adopters of eMRAM, especially for wearables with RF and low power.

ARM VP Kelvin Low said people should do more than just migrate to FD-SOI. If they use back biasing, it can replace the need for big/little cores.

Body biasing makes things easier, maintained Verisilicon CEO Wayne Dai. His teams find that with body biasing, you can tape out for “typical” instead of “worst case”.

It’s not too late for FD-SOI: it’s perfect timing for the MCU market, which is still at 40nm, said Sankalp Semi CEO Samir Patel. As designers, they’re happy to focus on companies still on the older nodes.

The IP ecosystem should be more enthusiastic about FD-SOI, said Analog Bits EVP Mahesh Tirupattur. You’ve got more potential customers, and your volume runs can be bigger.

In his closing remarks, SOI Consortium Executive Co-Director Carlos Mazure reminded the audience of the day’s three take-aways:

  1. power consumption is driving even systems companies
  2. FD-SOI is penetrating fields like MCUs and SoCs where more intelligence is needed
  3. China is still a really big opportunity.