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Intel

Analog & Digital Chips On The Same Silicon 83

jukal writes "Forbes.com writes: "Intel Corp. Monday announced plans to put some functions of analog and digital chips onto the same piece of silicon, its latest push into the communications semiconductor industry.", "which will be available early in 2004, could lead to a single-chip hand-held device that offers cellular phone, wireless-data-network and other connection services.", so, I quess this will be a competitor to the Texas Instruments' OMAP chip?"
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Analog & Digital Chips On The Same Silicon

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  • Phone size (Score:3, Funny)

    by Winterblink ( 575267 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:10AM (#4265890) Homepage
    As if we need even smaller cell phones. Oh I can't wait for the day when I lose my cell phone in my EAR.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      We do need lower power. I can't wait for the day when my battery lasts till tommorow.
    • Re:Phone size (Score:3, Interesting)

      Have no fear, you'll lose it in your mouth [mercola.com] first!
      • Yeah I read about those a while back. Interesting technology. I'm sure we'll start hearing stories about dentists stealing peoples' phone teeth. :)
    • Re:Phone size (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ianaverage ( 168691 )
      It is not about the size of your cell phone, it is about the cost. By reducing the number of chips, one can SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the cost. The phones probably are not going to get that much smaller...but it will be nice if the prices do. .09 process is going to do a lot for these chips, and we are going to see cell phone prices start to fall pretty significantly.

      On a side note...this does kinda remind me of that Futurama episode where Amy gets a call from Kip and Leela thinks that she swallowed her phone....

  • How many reports of "signle chip solutions" are we gonna hear before we really start seeing things happen? I see alot of "your toaster, car, girlfriend cell phone PDA and HDTV will all be pumped right into your retina" and so far I still have to carry about four "portable" (yeah sure, on their own they are, but not all together) pieces of crap.... Enough with the talk, make with the damn gadgets!
    • Re:Oh goodie.... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GigsVT ( 208848 )
      Single chip calculators have been around for several year. Single chip remote controls, single chip alarm clocks, single chip video transmitters... It's all there, you just don't see it, that's sort of the point.
  • Phones (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zebs ( 105927 )
    Does this mean mobile phones will get smaller? I have enough problems with the nokia 8310 being to small, any smaller and it starts getting unusable. I'm not old though, or technology challenged, just a average 24 year old who finds 8310s to small!

    On the other hand, if theres less space taken by the electronics then you can have a bigger battery and more talk time.

    I guess even more features are being packed into ever smaller spaces.... is nothing new?
  • by msgmonkey ( 599753 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:13AM (#4265917)
    A large section of embedded IC's have digital & analog on one chip. This has been done for years, just beacuse Intel are now doing it does n't make it news.
    • by jaoswald ( 63789 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:27AM (#4266021) Homepage
      You are completely right about mixed signal chips being a reality for a long time: you don't need to look any further than a video card in your computer to see that. Intel mentions "silicon radio" as if it is a new idea, but a company already exists called Cambridge Silicon Radio [csr.com], so you can see it isn't just Intel in this business.

      I have a feeling that something important is being left out of this article. If you look at the original press release [intel.com] you see that it is a total mishmash of different Intel developments. The poor journalist was stuck trying to find a lead in this story (other than "Intel has bunches o' innovation") and zeroed in on the part that mentioned Moore's law, which he had heard before.

      The most interesting part that I see is the tunable laser using silicon photonics. Si has an indirect band-gap, which makes it not very good for making lasers and optical devices. That could be big news.
      • > (Score: 1, Offtopic)

        Eeek. That must make it into the top 10 of worst moderations in /. history. The comment is +5, Insightul.

        When I submitted that article, I thought I should write about Intel's slowness related to wireless/radio things or not, but then I decided to leave it out. They are behind, it's a fact. But still, I think it's news that they are now entering the game with muscle.

      • The most interesting part that I see is the tunable laser using silicon photonics. Si has an indirect band-gap, which makes it not very good for making lasers and optical devices. That could be big news.

        Yup so thats why its more intelligent to not to use Si, intel has been an advocate of germanium... but this article is ...?

        But the thing to watch out for would be to see what they use for noise isolation, TI is a big and old player in mixed signal and noise is a bitch for analog when Digital buffers are toggling so fast, so isolation is important.. lets see what intel does!
      • Totaly agreed. More than a half dozen companies have "mixed signal" SiGe BiCMOS (meaning high performance bipolar/analog and CMOS transistors together) processes in or nearing production including IBM, Motorola, TI, Infineon, Conexant, etc etc.
        The trick is that this is relatively new ground for Intel which has been focused on digital logic applications. Too bad for the rest of us...
        Though, FWIW, they have lots of catching up to do !

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Mixed signal is not new, but SiGe on CMOS is new. This allows much higher speed analog circuits than traditional mixed signal devices. I believe that Intel is one of the first to commercialize this process. That's what makes this news.
    • Its not only the classical "mixed signal", what they want to integrate onto a chip but also the HF components, like Low Noise Amplifier(LNAs), mixers and filters which work in the GHz frequency range. Thats also what they need the SiGe HBTs for. But i agree to you that this has been done before. See for example single chip bluetooth. On the other side this has not be done for GSM chips up to now, but Intel is not the only company working on that.

      --
      Marcus
    • I think what should be the focus here is that Intel is planning on hitting the 90nm scale. Hell the 130nm scale has barely been accepted by all chip manufacturers, and it's already becoming obselete. The chip process technology is the thing that should really be the focus here. This [intel.com] is an article related to this. Essentially Intel will be using Silicon Germanium like IBM. According to Intel, this will not only mean a smaller scale production, but will also produce a chip that can tolerate higher frequencies. Here is another article relating to this: click [siliconvalley.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Single chip A and D have been available for at least 20 years. Hobbyists could buy single chip DVM kits and virtually ALL modems nowadays are Mixed A and D DSP chips.
  • SID part 2? (Score:2, Funny)

    by cpct0 ( 558171 )
    Well, I guess it means after 20 years (or so), finally a serious contender to the analog/digital king: the SID chip.

    I wonder if it will have a life span as long as the SID...
    • Re:SID part 2? (Score:2, Interesting)

      The 6581 SID is still being used in synth devices today... check out www.sidstation.com for some really cool hardware, and there's a band that prominantly uses the SID in their music... Machinae Supremacy. (www.machinaesupremacy.com)

      Very cool.
  • The point of integrating the analog and digital circuits onto one chip is not just to shrink the size of the device. It'll make a more feature-rich device cheaper, more realiable, and should result in better battery life.

    This is interesting for cell phones, but it has far more interesting possibilities in the general realm of analog and digital circuit integration.
  • This is new? (Score:2, Informative)

    Maybe its new for this application, but hybrid analog/digital chips have been around for a long time. Anybody ever hear of an analog-to-digital converter, or perhaps a digital-to-analog converter?

    For that matter, inkjet printheads have quite a bit of both analog and digital circuitry on them, and they are made out of a single silicon die.
    • Your CD player converts digital to analog. Why is this news?
    • Re:This is new? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jaoswald ( 63789 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:35AM (#4266081) Homepage
      An A-D converter is not necessarily a truly hybrid device. The point is that there are transistors that are good for producing gain, possibly at high frequencies. Those make up what are generically called "linear" chips. Mostly op-amps and so on.
      These tend to be bipolar junction transistors or related technologies. The key thing is that they tend to pass current all the time.

      Then, there are transistors which are good for switching, for creating logic gates & CPU logic. These tend to be CMOS field-effect transistors which are designed to only pass current when they are switching, in order to reduce power consumption so that you can raise the clock rate to obscene levels. However, logic gates are ideally non-linear: either on or off, with nothing in between.

      The problem is that these technologies are differently optimized, and aren't naturally compatible. Coming up with a process that can produce nice linear transistors along with high-performance logic gates is tough. You can also try to approach it from the other end: come up with some kind of circuit which can make nicer amplifiers out of lousy transistors.

      That's what makes true mixed-signal chips difficult: you either give up linear behavior, or increase current draw, or you give up the gate density and clock performance.
      • Re:This is new? (Score:2, Informative)

        by pll178 ( 544842 )
        You're confusing the transistor devices with the circuit topology. You can build analog circuits from NMOS and PMOS transistors (CMOS process), in fact, when I took an analog circuits class at Berkeley, we only used NMOS and PMOS transistors, no bipolar transistors at all. We were able to build almost any analog circuit that we wanted. If you put a NMOS and PMOS in an inverter configuration to get a switch, but you can play some tricks to make the same transistors produce a current source or an op-amp.

        On a side note, in a CMOS process, you can create crappy NPN and PNP transistors called lateral NPN or lateral PNP. It has horrible gain, but if you needed to build a bandgap voltage source (or some other bipolar-like device), you can use this transistor.

  • oh great... (Score:1, Funny)

    by mekkab ( 133181 )
    This is like cats and dogs coexisting peacefully-

    Its total anarchy!

  • by famazza ( 398147 ) <fabio DOT mazzarino AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:30AM (#4266046) Homepage Journal

    This means that instead of two-chips cellular will have single-chip celluar!

    That's a huge advance!

  • by doublem ( 118724 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:32AM (#4266062) Homepage Journal
    RIAA Spokeswoman Hillary Rosen immedietly began a legal action to block this technology. "It would allow for the creation of Analog to digital and digital to Analog translation devices! It must be stopped. All industry must bow before RIAA profits! All technology that can be used to pirate music must be destroyed! Kill them! Hang them all!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:42AM (#4266113)
    As ambitious as this effort is, there are significant barriers to getting it to work properly.

    First off, analog and digital go hand in hand. All digital circuits are essentially analog circuits operating in a non-linear range. However, high-frequency analog circuitry is particularly problematic. Even basic structures such as phase locked loops and analog-to-digital converters can generate a lot of on-chip noise, both in the silicon substrate itself and through parasitic coupling above it. For basic PLLs, you need a good 50-100 microns of space between it and the nearest logic gate. Higher-speed cores will require structures like isolation tubs and additional spacing, and will significantly hamper placement and routing of the remaining circuitry. In other words, it is very easy to run out of die space and/or introduce signal integrity problems.

    Speaking of signal integrity problems, the smaller geometry ICs (0.18um feature size and below) are having their signal integrity problems get worse and worse. Noise, delay, and wire melt are common problems that need repair in the digital circuitry, and noise margins are getting razor thin as it is. Power distribution is also going to be a nightmare, considering that every analog block will need its own power, probably multiple FC lands per block. The thing is, the CAD tools aren't there yet. Chips are still taped out with marginal signal integrity problems despite "simulating ok". Mind you, the analog portions are given a wide berth as I mentioned above, but who knows if they've fully covered this in the CAD tools or in the formulation of the design methodology. Lots of test vehicle chips will be needed.

    Also, integrating passives can be precarious at best. Chips can have elements such as inductors and capacitors, but they're not area efficient at all, and you'll need external passive components anyway. And if you want power regulation for charging functions and battery regulation, fuggeddaboudit. These structures are particularly area inefficient. I don't think that this is what they're trying to do, but if you think we'll have literally everything integrated onto one chip, it won't happen.

    I also have very little faith in the process technologies. If you look at some of the problems that 0.13um manufacturing has had with via voids and low-k dielectric brittleness that have been shown in the trade journals lately, I'd be very nervous with releasing something like this with just anyone's process. TI seems to be better for manufacturability, but TSMC or UMC? Don't count on it - yet. To accommodate the highly integrated nature of this device, they need a small process technology with very rigorous manufacturing capabilities to avoid some of these problems.

    Finally, integrating analog RF and digital requires advanced packaging technologies. If I've got the output to an antenna block in my chip package, how do I get it out? Most likely, this would go into a flip-chip package to accommodate the high integrated nature of this. Well, the flip-chip redistribution layer, the package substrate, and the surrounding pins will all have to be very carefully designed so that the RF signal will be sufficiently isolated. On RF-only chips, this isn't a problem. Heck, they have fully-integrated Bluetooth chips. But Bluetooth only has enough power to reach 30 meters. We're talking a signal that has to reach several kilometers here. That's a difference. It's doable, but it is just another big constraint on the design.

    Can they do it? I think they *might* be able to, but not without significant design effort. Personally, I think they're better off going with a multi-die package and leaving the RF block as a die right beside the other, and specially route through the substrate with its own power. Integrated doesn't always have to mean "everything on one chip". Just like gift wrapping multiple presents in the same wrapper, I think this would be a better way to go for this effort, and will deliver fruit MUCH faster than what I believe they're implying in the article.
  • so, I quess this will be a competitor to the Texas Instruments' OMAP chip?

    Quess again! Lets start running these stories through a spell-checker before we promote them to the front page. ;)

    On a related note, this story is a little interesting, but there isn't a lot of meat to grab onto, IMHO. Yay! We can have digital and analog circuits on the same chip. Actually, I'm a little surprised that wasn't being done already if it is that much of an advantage.
  • Most Bluetooth vendors have already developped and are in production with 'single' chip designs that incorporate both the digital baseband with the analog radio and all the 'glue logic' in between. This isn't really news on the Analog-Digital single chip designs, but more for the Analog-digital cellular single chip designs.

    Cellular chipsets require very precise parts and separate the analog from the digital for good reasons - noise, crosstalk, coupling, etc. This is a good step forward for wireless design as a whole.
  • ftp://download.intel.com/labs/eml/download/EML_rad io.pdf
  • Well, the mixed AD chip is almost irrelevant as far as size is concerned. Signal wavelength considerations are important, which determine the minimum length of copper connections.

    Also lot of the space is taken up by the electromechanical filter (I think they are called ceramic oscillators, but I cannot be sure), which is basically just two comb-like structures of copper that are unconnected. Signals pass between each part by mechanical vibration)
  • Germanium is an element. A Geranium is a plant. It pisses me off supposedly intelligent people refer to "Silicon-Geranium" fab methods.

    Be sure to fertilise that chip.

    - Adam
  • OMAP Comparison (Score:2, Informative)

    This will NOT be a competitor to OMAP. OMAP is a chip that contains an ARM925T RISC, C55x DSP, and just about every peripheral you can think of (USB, MMC, Memory Stick, UART, Bluetooth, etc).

    TI is planning on producing a chip [yahoo.com] that combines into a single chip the software, baseband technology, applications processing, power management, radio frequency and embedded memory that typically require separate processors.
    • I hope that Intel's documentation is better than TI's. TI has a huge chance to further penetrate the cellular/handheld market but their documentation, tools, etc. are sparse, vague, and poorly written. You have to document something well beyond the marketing material to get people to use it. The pretty pictures and snappy acronyms will only get you so far.

      Somebody at TI should crack open a Motorola, ARM, Phillips, or Atmel manual or datasheet and see how to document a part so someone can use it.
  • NYT Article (Score:3, Informative)

    by asv108 ( 141455 ) <asv AT ivoss DOT com> on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:19AM (#4266371) Homepage Journal
    There is also a NYT Article. [nytimes.com]
  • When I was a co-op at TI (custom DSP group) in 1992, we had a mixed signal DSP with a c10 core (25% of chip), a 12-bit A-D converter (25% of chip) and a big sea of analog circuitry to combine several functions inside a hard drive into one chip.

    Since then, TI has published a library of cores and analog circuitry (including antennaes, A/D, D/A, etc.) that can be mixed and matched as needed for your custom DSP system.

    This is possibly new and shiny because Intel finally decided to get involved in cell phones. Nothing else about the article is cutting edge or even slightly revolutionary.

    Regards,
    Ross
  • For one half of the world, 'chips' are 'crisps', in other words sliced potatoes fried till they get hard and seasoned with spices, salt, peper, onions, or whatever. (I mean this) For another half of the world (not necessarily mutually exclusive), chips are 'frenched fried potatoes', in other words 'fritten met frikandel en pikkels', in yet other words you cut them in prisms about 6mm x 6mm x the length of the potato, then you bake them twice in 180 C animal fat and serve them with mayo. Call them ASICs or ICs or whatever the correct term is for what you vaguely meant, for heaven's sake ! We're nerds, we're not Joe Mainstream.
    • and since that other half of the world consists of 2 islands (ok, i know there are more than 2 islands, but my point is elsewhere), one of which doesn't know the meaning of the word dentist, then obviously, imperialism is not dead.....
      good, i can go about using inch, foot, gallon, pound, and ounce once more....
  • by JGski ( 537049 )
    ...market leader Intel adopts SiGe *heterojunction* technology. For literally decades GaAs folks have crowed about how GaAs will be the technology of the future that would wipe out Si. GaAs has been the traditional bastion of HBTs. The adoption of SiGe now potentially turns that claim on its head, certainly keeping GaAs marginalized as always. Conventional Si technology and economics are still completely available to such HBT designs, which GaAs has lacked - key being having a native insulating oxide.

    What's significant about SiGe and heterojunctions is that current Si technology is homojunction with a fixed, indirect bandgap (the latter being why there are no Si electro-optic devices like LEDs. Heterojunctions allow you to tune the bandgap and even create direct gap devices (which LED/Laser consistuents GaAs, GaInP, GaP, AlGaAs, et al., are) out of indirect gap elements. This throws in an additional set of parameters into the circuit design mix that allows traditional limits on carrier mobility, intrinsic carrier concentrations and other basic device parameters to be thrown out the window. This completely changes both the upper bounds of performance and potentially even basic device operating modes. Many of the "tricks" from the GaAs world become available to "mere mortals of the commercial Si world" such as HBTs, HEMTs, LEDs, EOs, et al.

    Now one of the largest Si manufacturers has seen the economics as workable for general purpose uses. That is profound because for >30 years, GaAs has never gotten there beyond its very small niches, largely due to economics.

    As mentioned, mixed signal devices have been around for some time (every cellphone has a mixed signal IC). Combining digital computing with analog circuitry has often required trading performance on one or the other - often what makes good digital gates MOS devices and processing isn't optimal for analog circuits which is best done in bipolar. HBTs are a special high-performance bipolar technology - an analog designer's dream, yet all the VLSI digital can be on-chip without compromise!

    The TI OMAP comparison is completely out in left field as others have mentioned. Irrelevant.

    JSki

  • We can do most, if not all, the analog and digital functions with pre-existing technology. Heck, I prefer seperate modules so that if one part goes, the other can take over, or work indepedant from each other.

    This just sounds like the ussual press release BS that doesn't matter to anyone.
  • The OMAP chip integrates a DSP and an ARM processor. There is no analog circuitry in the OMAP. I haven't read the intel article, but my guess is they are talking about integrating true analog components onto a chip such as simple mixers and VCO's. These would serve to perform a final downconvert for the incoming signal which would then be fed into an on chip A/D so the information could pass to the digital circuitry. This would be a fixed architecture targetted to a specific comm standard. There are already some chips that have both digital and analog components integrated onto the same wafer. The Programmable System on a Chip (PSOC) line from Cypress Semiconductor allows for programmable digital and analog blocks on one chip giving you the core of a CPLD and the ability to graft on custom filters and amps (abliet simple ones) and varying A/D's and DACS all on the same piece of silicon. That can mean some truely usefull real estate savings when laying out your design.

  • I did my Masters' thesis on an analog amplified system using a standard CMOS process. They're just transistors. Nothing magical here.

    --Blair
  • These things have been around for years.
  • http://www.commsdesign.com/design_center/opticalne tworking/news/OEG20020915S0001
  • The interesting thing about the article is that Intel is now using SiGe bipolar devices as well as CMOS FETs in their mixed-signal designs. The author doesn't seem to understand the technology well enough to understand that this is the key point. It's a technology achievement for Intel, not a design achievement. People have been doing mixed-signal designs for quite some time now.

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