Real System Realization involves the delicate balancing of many factors including performance, power, and cost. Each of these factors consists of many subcomponents. For example, most performance requirements have mixed-signal aspects and include both digital and analog components. Triad Semiconductor has aimed a line of gate-array products squarely at the mixed-signal market with via-configurable 180nm arrays that offer Realization teams a fairly interesting mix of digital elements, analog elements, and an ARM M0 processor if desired. The types of SoCs you might design with one of these arrays ranges from sensor-processing chips to consumer devices and low-end wireless products.
The most recent member of this via-configurable array (VCA) family, announced about a week ago, is the VCA-6 array with more than 1 million (real) ASIC gates with a 125MHz system clock, 1.28 Mbits of on-chip dual-ported SRAM, 96 op amps (72 single-ended and 24 differential op amps), twelve 6-bit DACs with 5ns settling time (which can be cascaded to make larger DACs and ADCs), and an assortment of on-chip resistors and capacitors. The logic runs on 1.8V and the analog components can run on power supplies to 5V.
Back in February, the company introduced the Mocha-1 VCA that features a 25MHz ARM Cortex-M0 processor core with 32Kbytes of on-chip EEPROM and 24Kbytes of SRAM, 75,000 uncommitted ASIC gates, 2048 bits of dual-ported SRAM, and 32 op amps.
Both of these via-configurable arrays can be used to implement entire mixed-signal systems with moderate performance. Configuration is through vias so there is only one custom mask layer for the devices. VCA wafers are staged and stocked at the foundry until a customization via layer is ready to finish the device. Because of the specialized nature of the VCA devices’ global 2-layer routing fabric, Triad actually creates the via layer using customer HDL, schematics, and netlists. Place and route reduces to setting vias in a pre-existing routing fabric.
Triad’s VCA family represents yet another alternative to System Realization and Silicon Realization. The company emphasizes the improved integration, power savings, and lower unit cost of this design approach and claims to offer the shortest time to market for mixed-signal ASIC prototypes. (A White Paper on the site claims that the company can produce first silicon in as little as three to five months when using an existing VCA design, depending on the amount of time needed for circuit development. The Triad Semiconductor VCAs can’t be used to create the most advanced SoCs on the planet, but neither can FPGAs.