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Traditionally, fabless semiconductor companies solve complex design issues on their own or hand off their issues to specialized design shops, though, not all companies can afford complex chip design these days. For those companies IBM wants to offer a service that will put all the ASIC design issues on IBM’s Engineering & Technology Services division.

IBM Engineering & Technology Services has set up a foundry design center that offers a full range of foundry design services from start to finish (RTL to GDSII). Final GDSII databases are offered in IBM’s foundry technology or in competing technologies.

Chips can be designed and manufactured in one of four ways: full-custom, semi-custom ASIC, semi-custom FPGA or foundry. Expense, technical design requirements, time-to-market, and projected volumes are all factors in deciding which option to choose.

An important quality of the IBM Engineering & Technology Services (E&TS) offering is flexibility. E&TS can accept handoffs from RTL level verilog or VHDL netlists, and can generate GDSII layout data for clients to take to virtually any major foundry in the world. This means the design tools that clients use may in most cases be compatible with the design services offered by E&TS, IBM said.

To provide the ultimate flexibility in design methodology, clients can define their desired tools flow with the E&TS team, choosing to license a third-party's EDA tools, IBM’s own tools flow or a mixture. For portability, the Engineering & Technology Services uses either the Artisan library, to provide design portability, or the IBM library, enabling clients to take advantage of IBM library technology and certain of IBM’s own sophisticated tools.

Clients may gain still more flexibility through one-stop shopping, helping to speed time to market and reduce expenses.

While some major fabless semiconductor companies, such as NVIDIA Corp., Xylinx or ATI Technologies, tend to design their chips using own highly-experienced teams of semiconductor engineers, smaller chip firms may prefer to pay IBM, but not keep their own design teams. Microsoft Corp., the world’s No.1 software developer and creator of Xbox console, aims to fully control the manufacturing process of chips for the Xbox 2 console, licensing only IP from companies like ATI, SiS and IBM; however, Microsoft does not have chip design experience and its not clear who will design actual chips for the Redmond, Washington-based software giant.

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