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Lucent hails all-in-one chips

Lucent president Curtis Crawford will outline next-generation chip trends, including the of the rise of the "system-on-a-chip" design, in a speech tonight.

At a speech to the Semiconductor Industry Association to be given tonight, the head of Lucent Microelectronics (LU), formerly the chip research arm of highly acclaimed Bell Labs, will outline next-generation computer chip trends, including the rise of the "system-on-a-chip" design.

Curtis Crawford, president of Lucent Microelectronics, is also expected to address the need to include new yardsticks for measuring advancements in the chip industry.

The speech will be given in conjunction with the Semiconductor Industry Association's (SIA) annual presentation of its forecasts for global chip sales.

"I predict that in five years, more than ten percent of the semiconductor industry's sales will come from [system-on-a-chip] circuits. We need a new product category to capture this key development," he said in a written preview of the speech released today.

Increasingly, traditional chip product categories such as microprocessors, digital signal processors (DSPs), and memory chips are being integrated into single chips, Crawford said.

As chips gain the ability to pack in more transistors, chipmakers gain the ability to incorporate modems, graphics accelerators, video playback chips, and other formerly separate chips onto a single piece of silicon. For example, IBM says it will be able to pack up to 180 million transistors on its largest chip using its new copper manufacturing process. By contrast, a Pentium II processor currently has 5.5 million transistors.

But as more functions get packed on to a chip, Crawford says the industry will need to find different ways of tracking sales so that companies have access to information on what markets need to be served.

As if to underscore Crawford's point, today in Japan, Cadence Design (CDN) and Toshiba announced a new processor which integrates other features to allow its customers to use the design for systems-on-a-chip.

Up until recently, system-on-a-chip was a lot of hype, says Dr. Handel Jones, CEO of International Business Strategies (IBS), a market research firm based in Los Gatos, California. But the Cadence and Toshiba announcements represent one of the first concrete steps in a direction set forth by VSI, an alliance of 36 companies who are working to reduce time to market and increase functionality of a system-on-a-chip designs.

Such work is made possible by what is referred to as "reusable" intellectual property (IP).

"No integrated circuit company has all the intellectual property," Jones said. Companies will increasingly need to partner for system-on-a-chip designs, Jones suggests.

IBS is forecasting that in 10 years almost 50 percent of some $480 billion in semiconductor sales will be system-level integrated circuits.

In tonight's speech, Crawford will also address new yardsticks for measuring advancement in the semiconductor industry.

Instead of using Moore's Law to measure industry progress, industry participants should consider using a combination of speed, cost, and power consumption to adequately measure advancements in the industry, Crawford will say. Moore's Law is named for Gordon Moore, chairman emeritus of Intel, who once predicted that the chip industry will be able to double the number of transistors on a chip every 18 months.

"Moore's Law?has been a hallmark for decades in helping us understand the progress of the industry," he said in a prepared statement. "The more transistors, the more powerful the chip. Now, fundamental changes in the industry are requiring that we also look to other criteria--speed, cost and power consumption--to understand progress in the benefits technology brings to us."

Crawford proposes that the industry adopt a three-dimensional metric, which he calls the IC Performance Cube, to rate chips. The size of the cube for a given chip is determined by that chip's speed, cost, and power consumption. "The smaller the cube, the better," Crawford noted.