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IBM Opens Up Its ASIC Chip Designs

Seeing a need to build out its processor lineup, IBM Friday said it is expanding its relationship with Avnet for application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) devices.

The extended partnership marks the first time that Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM has opened up its ASIC design methodologies for execution by a channel business partner.

ASICs are commonly used in PDAs as well as in cars to control the functions of the vehicle. Designed for a particular application (as opposed to the integrated circuits that control functions such as RAM in a PC), ASICs are built by connecting existing circuit building blocks in new ways.

Since the building blocks already exist in a library, it is much easier to produce a new ASIC than to design a new chip from scratch.

Under the new Avnet agreement, the Phoenix-based company's Cilicon division will supply engineering design services to customers to help them use more IBM ASIC products. The agreement covers ASIC products and technologies from IBM at the .18 micron and .25 micron technology nodes. In addition, Avnet will provide sales and marketing support.

"This agreement represents a new business model for IBM and a significant opportunity for our ASIC business," IBM Systems vice president Tom Reeves said in a statement. "Avnet offers an established customer base and technical design support via four dedicated design centers in North America that can help our ASIC business expand into new opportunities."

The outlook for ASIC-specific content of all IC design spending has shifted in the last seven years as field programmable gate array designs have grown in popularity, according to American Technology Research analyst Erach Desai.

"Our findings suggest that ASIC design starts peaked at an annualized rate of 10,500 in 1996 and we project that there will be under 2,500 ASIC design starts in 2005. By extension, we believe that electronic design automation revenues for ASIC design will likely decline by 4 percent in 2004 and decline further by 9 per cent in 2005," Desai said in a newsletter to investors.

Still, IBM has been busy expanding its made-to-order chip-building business. Currently, IBM has manufacturing deals with chipmakers, such as Sony , AMD . The company also makes custom chips for NVIDIA , QUALCOMM and Xilinx . Last summer, the company opened its Customized Control Processor (CCP) service for networking systems and their corresponding sectors.

IBM said it noticed that 80 percent of its designs were being used and re-used by its customers. The shift in plans is to now pair off the chip technologies of IBM's Microelectronics division with the design capabilities of its Engineering and Technology Services (E&TS) division to take on more phases of customers' designs for them and shave about six months off of the chip production cycle.