top of page
IC 設計 2 主圖.jpg

Year of writing: 2021
Author: Tony

IC Design Integrated Circuit Design   Part 2

Meet the dazzling array of chips

There are hundreds of types of chips, and the characteristics of each type of chip vary greatly. Therefore, when looking for an IC design company that is worth investing in, you need to understand the types of ICs and technical thresholds. Some chips are as high as $10,000, while others are less than $1; some chips have a development cycle of 5 or 6 years, and some chips need to be developed within 3 months. To understand IC, let's start with the type!


ICs are roughly divided into four categories according to their functions and signal transmission: memory IC (Memory Integrated Circuit), micro component IC (Micro Component Integrated Circuit), analog IC (Analog Integrated Circuit), digital IC / logic IC (Logic Integrated Circuit) .

IC 設計

1. Memory IC

Memory IC is used to store data, which is divided into volatile and non-volatile. The type of data that will disappear after power off is called volatile memory, including the well-known DRAM and SRAM; the type of data that continues to be stored after power off is called non-volatile memory, including read-only memory ROM and flash memory Nand Flash, etc.


The industrial characteristics of memory are quite different from those of general IC design companies: most of the memory industry is vertically integrated manufacturing IDM (Integrated Design and Manufacture), rather than fabless semiconductor companies (Fabless). DRAM itself includes design and manufacturing. The reason is that DRAM is a product with a small number of samples and a large quantity. For these manufacturers, it is necessary to pursue the maximization of manufacturing process and production capacity to reduce costs and increase competitiveness.


In the 2000s, the DRAM industry belonged to a perfectly competitive market, with more than dozens of manufacturers investing in it. However, today there are only three mainstream DRAM factories left, namely Micron, Samsung, and Hynix. In Taiwan, under the government's "Two-Megabit Double Star" policy in 2002, many DRAM manufacturers appeared, but they became one of the "Four Major Industries" because of their lack of competitiveness.

Nowadays, these Taiwanese manufacturers such as Nanya Branch and Winbond have transformed to niche DRAM. Because the three major manufacturers have gradually reduced the proportion of niche DRAM production, Taiwanese manufacturers have been able to dominate each niche DRAM; from Formosa Plastics The founded Huaya Branch was acquired by Micron, and Powerchip was delisted and transformed into a foundry.

IC 設計

2. Micro-component IC

Micro-component IC has data processing functions, including microprocessor MPU (Micro Processor Unit), microcontroller MCU (Micro Controller Unit), microprocessor peripheral MPR (Micro Peripheral), digital signal processor DSP (Digital Signal Processor) and many more.

The microprocessor MPU is used for computing, and the main manufacturer is ARM. Microcontroller MCU is used in almost all electronic products. MCU integrates MPU and its peripheral parts, such as memory IC. MCUs are usually low in price, account for a low proportion of the overall product cost and low power consumption, so the key competitiveness lies in its stability. The characteristics of low cost and low power consumption make it an important part of the Internet of Things, self-driving cars, and edge computing. Major manufacturers include Texas Instruments TI, Renesas, and Microchip; Taiwanese companies include Nuvoton, Yingguang, and Shengqun; Chinese companies have BYD Semiconductor, Jiefa Technology, etc., there are also many suppliers around the world. Digital signal processor DSP is used in the field of audio and video processing, such as: noise reduction, speech recognition, audio and video file compression, etc. Manufacturers include Texas Instruments TI, Analog Devices, NXP and so on.

Three, analog IC

Analog ICs are responsible for processing linear continuous signals, usually natural phenomena such as light, speed, and sound, including power management ICs, audio-visual amplifiers, digital-to-analog conversion ICs, audio-visual-related ICs, etc.; compared to common digital signals 0 and 1, The processing of analog signals is more difficult, and the threshold of circuit design is relatively high. It takes about 3 to 5 years to develop an analog IC design engineer, and the product learning curve is as long as 10 to 15 years.

Because of the role of an auxiliary system, the product stability of analog ICs has become an important key, and a longer product certification period is formed; when analog ICs enter a certain market, they are usually not easy to change, and their transfer costs are high. These conditions have prompted analog IC companies to become stable investment growth targets for many investors, such as Silicon-Ky, a daughter of power management ICs. Market research firm IC Insight estimates that analog ICs will reach 25% YoY in 2021 (year-on-year growth). Among them, automotive analog ICs and communication analog ICs will grow the most.

Global players in analog ICs include Texas Instruments TI, STMicroelectronics ST Micro, Infineon Infineon, etc. Texas Instruments has a market share of approximately 19% in analog ICs, which is far ahead of competitors. Richtek, the largest analog IC design factory in Taiwan, was acquired by MediaTek to achieve the goal of digital analog integration.

IC 設計
IC 設計

Fourth, digital IC / logic IC

As the name suggests, logic IC is responsible for logic operations, processing 0 and 1 signals, and is also the most common chip we see. It is usually an important and key component in the system, which is widely used in CPU, GPU, panel driver IC (DDI), touch IC, Netcom IC, high-speed transmission IC, etc. Most of these companies are fabless semiconductor companies (Fabless) and do not have their own foundries. The manufacturing process needs to rely on foundries from foundries such as TSMC. Therefore, IC design technology and chip performance will be the key to their competition.

In order to meet market demand, product iterations are fast, and new products are often introduced in one or even six months to maintain market competitiveness. For example, Qualcomm's mobile phone SoC (system-on-chip) will release the Snapdragon S865 in Q1 of 2020, and one year later in 2021. Snapdragon S888 was released on Q1; this is only the flagship market, and S765 is also released in the mid-to-high-end market. The product launch volume and speed are more intensive than other types of IC design plants.

There are many industry players involved. Here are a few, and the following article will introduce and compare them in detail. Central processing unit (CPU): Intel, AMD; graphics processing unit (GPU): Nvidia, AMD; mobile communication IC: Qualcomm, MediaTek; Netcom IC: Broadcom, Realtek, Marvell, according to TrendForce survey, the world's top ten in 2020 With a large revenue IC design house, only DIALOG Semiconductor comes from analog ICs, and the other 9 are all logic ICs, which shows the importance of logic ICs. In the same chip field, leaders usually have a substantially higher gross profit margin than other companies, so market share, R&D capabilities, and product futures will affect the company's development.

IC 設計

Generally, analog ICs have relatively stable revenue and stock prices, and are loved by long-term investors. On the contrary, logic ICs are explosive and have the opportunity to catch up at any time and become the market leader. The leader’s revenue is also very substantial, so it is suitable for short-term but for the market Investors in full control.

bottom of page