Cheap mixed-signal ASIC as easy as FPGA

March 25, 2013

Jack Ganssle-March 25, 2013

How will you make that complex analog/digital circuit in volume?

Traditionally one would lay out a board. Maybe all or most of the digital bits can be stuffed into a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). The analog generally gets distributed via op amps, transistors, and passive components over the printed-circuit board. Crank up the volume and it might make sense to ASIC-ize the FPGA, but there's not much one can do to compress the analog.

Triad Semiconductor now offers an intriguing solution, a mixed-signal ASIC that is relatively cheap to produce.

The company sells ICs they call Via Configurable Arrays (VCA), which are nearly-complete ASICs. They're composed of "tiles" that contain standard components, such as all sorts of op amps, resistors, capacitors, data converters, and the like.

These are mixed-signal parts so MCUs and memory are available on-chip as well, with a variety of common peripherals.

Triad's web site is a little frustrating to navigate, but this page lists the characteristics of the different VCAs. An IC with a Cortex M0 can have a few dozen op amps and gobs of digital circuits and programmable logic. Or a more analog-centric device (like their VCA-6) will have a couple of hundred op amps with gain-bandwidth products up to 50 MHz, 10,000 capacitors (!), nearly as make resistors, 2,500 transistors, over a megabit of static random-access memory, a couple of 200-MHz phase-locked loops, and a million logic gates. That could form one heck of a complex analog/digital circuit.

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