What is an ASIC Chip and How Are They Useful?
There are several different types of computer chips.
Still, one that you’ll no doubt come across if you’re involved in electronics is the ASIC chip, a chip with an application-specific integrated circuit.
These chips have grown massively in popularity recently due to their importance in cryptocurrency
mining and their potential for AI, but what exactly are they?
ASICS are specialized chips that can come in two design methods: gate-array and full-custom.
Gate-array designs reduce non-recurring engineering costs because the design work needed for the chip to be full and working is minimal.
Production is also much less time-consuming due to the use of metallization.
Gate-array designs tend to be larger in size due to it being composed of a pre-defined combination of layers, transistors, and other active devices.
These designs feature switches that can be opened and closed by an engineer to initiate a certain function.
Full-custom designs are, as the name might suggest, more complicated.
These designs allow a chip to serve a flexible range of functions and occupy many different sizes as unneeded
gates can be taken out of the manufacturing process.
If you need a very small ASIC, you will be looking at a full-custom design.
Compared to standard microchips that use general integrated circuits, ASIC chips have several benefits that influence their use in the tech industry.
Performance in an ASIC will be better than general circuits as they contain only the circuitry that is essential for their use.
The result of which is a much smaller size if needed, which translates into using far less power than standard circuits.
The result of this is higher efficiency and greater speeds, which is why they are known for their performance.
Intellectual Property Benefits
If you are looking to launch a novel piece of technology, a standard circuit board will allow competitors to replicate your product with great ease.
As ASICs are custom made, they make it very difficult for competitors to infringe on your intellectual property, requiring an expensive
and time consuming reverse engineering job that may even resort to exploiting supply-chain leaks! Many decide it is not worth it.
This won’t stop them from creating rival products, but if your product absolutely needs an ASIC, it can significantly
extend the time it takes for them to catch up with you.
In the long-term, most ASICs require fewer components, making them cheaper to assemble.
If you’re building products at scale, this will allow you to save a lot of money in the long-term and recuperate the higher
costs of developing the ASIC in the first place.
Only using essential parts also results in higher reliability, which will save you money by reducing the number of fully
assembled defects you produce and have to discard.
ASICs are the smart choice for many companies for whom proprietary technology is their lifeblood, and they require huge production
volumes, where the costs of non-recurring engineering can be reduced by scale. For lower production volumes, field-programmable gate
arrays (FPGAs) are a good alternative, but they won’t beat an ASIC’s performance.