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NEC Wraps ARM into Gate Arrays

-October 08, 2001

Adding another link in the chain of the pre-integrated third-party semiconductor intellectual property (IP) trend, NEC Electronics Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., is today introducing its System-on-Chip Lite (SoCLite) gate array family and development boards.

Just as programmable logic heavyweights have been doing for over a year, NEC Electronics is offering a gate array configured with a microprocessor core—here, the 32-bit ARM 7 microcontroller. SoCLite also offers 190,000 user-configurable gates as well as peripherals and memory that have all been tested and verified usable by ARM Ltd.

NEC Electronics, just as PLD makers and EDA houses have been saying, wants to take the sometimes complicated third-party IP licensing process out of design. "End customers don't have to deal with ARM at all," said David Lamar, senior marketing manager of NEC Electronics' System LSI business unit. "We've done the work (of licensing and verifying the ARM IP) for them."

But this is not necessarily troublesome for ARM. NEC Electronics calls the ARM7 "the industry-standard 32-bit microcontroller," and said it is more popular with customers than NEC's own V800, which is based on the MIPS architecture.

Unlike traditional standard-cell, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) designed for very high-volume customers, SoCLite is for customers using 30,000 to 200,000 units per year in a variety of applications, said Lamar. One application he highlighted was network printers.

NEC's share of the world's $3.25 billion gate array market is 23.8 percent, said Lamar, or $774 million, making it the No. 1 supplier in the world. The market as a whole is growing at 7.8 percent a year, he added.

With the softening economy and increasing costs of programmable logic, Lamar said, gate arrays are becoming more attractive. "There's been a tremendous resurgence in the gate array area," said Lamar. "The FPGA folks—their prices go up into the hundreds, even thousands of dollars. For the same number of gates, you can get a gate array for less than $20."

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