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  • Writer's pictureMichael Paulyn

Dissecting Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs)

Updated: Apr 10

Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) play an irreplaceable role in modern electrical engineering. They belong to a diverse category of integrated circuits (ICs) that empower designers to fine-tune sophisticated electronic devices efficiently. This blog delves into the intricacies of Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and their pivotal role in modern electrical engineering.

What Exactly is ASIC?

An ASIC is an integrated circuit crafted for a particular customer, application, or market utilizing cell-based methodologies. This involves extracting essential functional blocks from a pre-existing library, interconnecting them, and subjecting the configuration to simulation to ensure it delivers the intended system functionalities and performance standards.

This definition excludes integrated circuits created through traditional 'custom' design approaches. Additionally, this definition encompasses the common understanding of an ASIC and draws a crucial distinction between an ASIC and a conventional "custom IC."

It emphasizes that ASICs offer customized functionality without necessitating a fully customized design process. Instead, like designing a PCB, ASIC designers assemble functional blocks from a library, interconnect them, and verify functionality and performance via simulation.

Understanding "Application Specific" in ASICs

The term "application specific" in ASICs can be somewhat misleading. Traditionally, "application" in electrical engineering denotes the practical purpose of electrical equipment. However, ASICs often transcend a singular application or are not limited to one.

For instance, while a highly integrated data converter ASIC is customizable for medical imaging applications, it could also find utility in industrial video processing or automotive sensor networks. In essence, ASICs work to efficiently execute a specific combination of tasks, which may benefit diverse applications.

Navigating the ASIC Design Cycle

Designing and verifying a customized IC, even with functional blocks, is no small feat. When off-the-shelf ICs fall short, the usual recourse is to persist in the search. If challenges persist, programmable logic like Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) or Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs) might offer a viable alternative.

ASIC development demands considerable time, resources, and investment, often stretching over months or years with substantial non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. Typically, high-volume projects with stringent performance requirements justify the expenditure involved in ASIC development. Over time, ASICs can prove economically advantageous as production volume increases, as evidenced by lower total production costs compared to programmable logic alternatives.

Final Thoughts on ASICs

ASICs represent a pivotal addition to high-performance, high-volume electronic devices where optimization with off-the-shelf components falls short. They embody a tailored approach to achieving optimal functionality and performance, making them indispensable assets in the arsenal of modern electrical engineering.

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