Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Global Unichip moves to ASIC design services, acts as a virtual IDM with TSMC

Global Unichip Corporation (GUC), a Taiwan-based provider of semiconductor design and manufacturing services, has announced that they are refocusing their business model to become a full-service ASIC design company.  GUC was established in 1998, with many employees who transferred from semiconductor foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), which continues to be the majority shareholder at 36%. As a design and manufacturing services partner for TSMC, GUC has been able to help customers improve yield, quality and reliability of designs that were fabricated at the foundry.

GUC may not be very well-known in the U.S., but President Jim Lai says that the company's 2010 revenue of $327M placed them 14th on the Gartner Group ranking of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) companies. In July 2011, GUC announced they had added to their licenses for the ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor
from ARM Holdings, with a new agreement that includes the ARM Cortex-A5 MPCore processor and ARM Mali-300 GPU.  Earlier this month, Taiwanese technology news site DIGITIMES reported that TSMC and GUC had sent a team of 60 personnel to visit Apple for discussions of work on an upcoming A-series processor.  GUC has approximately 500 employees worldwide.

Lai says that with more IDMs going "fablite", the 3rd party infrastructure has matured to the point that development of semiconductor intellectual property (IP), chip implementation, and manufacturing can all be outsourced. He finds that GUC's system customers increasingly require custom ASICs in order to create differentiation, and the virtual integrated device manufacturer (IDM) model based on GUC's close relationship with TSMC allows the company to act as a neutral 3rd party, since they produce no products of their own. GUC's "Flexible ASIC Model" offers fabless companies, system houses, and even IDMs the ability to outsource management of relationships with IP providers, EDA vendors, the foundry and package/test companies.  GUC has a library of mixed-signal and interface IP that they have developed and can customize for particular applications. Besides ARM, GUC also works with Synopsys and other IP vendors to complete their library portfolio. 

The majority of GUC's designs are currently being manufactured in TSMC's 65nm process node, with 40nm ramping up and 28nm test chips also in fabrication.  GUC bases its ASIC projects on a non-recurring expense (NRE) charge without charging IP royalties directly, choosing to factor that expense into the margin that they build into the pricing of finished products. Lai tells the EE Daily News that their largest projects have approached 50 to 100M gates, in applications such as network processors. He foresees their first 20nm designs to be approximately two years away from production.

For the first-half of 2011, 44% of GUC's revenue came from U.S. customers, with 15% in Korea, 11% each in China and Taiwan, 10% in Japan and 9% in Europe. Wired and wireless communications made up 66% of GUC revenues in the first half of this year,
with 21% in consumer products and 10% in computers - which Lai says is mostly attributed to Tablet PCs.

To complete the virtual IDM model, GUC provides services for engineering of packages - including thermal and electrical analysis. The company averages approximately 60 package designs per year, and ships more than 30M finished devices annually. GUC also provides test engineering, product engineering, quality and reliability, and overall supply chain planning and management. Lai also says that GUC has cumulatively delivered more than 16M system-in-package (SiP) devices. 

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