ASIC Development Costs are Lower Than You Think

The minimal development costs for an ASIC are much lower than people think. These costs go toward:

  1. Designing the ASIC; the output is typically a GDSII file (a one-time cost: engineers salary + software licenses).
  2. Producing the mask set at the foundry (a one-time cost).
  3. Producing the wafers at the foundry (typically a fixed wafer lot cost + a cost per wafer).
  4. Slicing the wafer, and packaging the chips (fixed cost per wafer or per chip).

The cost of #1, designing the ASIC, is the most variable. It can be literally a few thousand dollars for a simple ASIC (eg. a Bitcoin mining ASIC with simple repetitive SHA-256 units), up to billions of USD (eg. the Cell processor development which cost 2 billion USD). In the case of a simple ASIC, the cost of #2, the mask set, is the biggest. #1 and #2 are usually refered to as NRE (non-recurring engineering) cost.

So what is the total cost for designing and producing a small initial batch of ASIC (sum of costs #1 through #4)? Let's hear from real-world sources who did produce Bitcoin mining ASICs:

  • The Bitfountain company said: in China, the cost is ~150k USD for 130nm, and ~500k USD for 65nm. They ended up developing a 130nm ASIC.
  • The BitSyncom company, also in China, posted enough information to reveal that their cost at the TSMC foundry were 200-300k USD for their 110nm ASIC. This matches the amount they raised via crowd funding (300 units * $1200 each = $360k).

So, there you have it, from two horses' mouths: ~150k USD for 130nm, 200-300k USD for 110nm, and ~500k USD for 65nm, as of 2013.

mrb Friday 19 April 2013 at 10:25 pm | | Default
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six comments

Joachim

Are these numbers just the NRE cost, or the total cost for X number of produced chips?

Joachim, - 20-04-’13 04:34
mrb

These numbers are the total to produce an initial small batch of chips (so costs #1 through #4). Foundries usually require the minimum batch to be 6 wafers.

mrb, - 21-04-’13 01:17
dan

Hi, can you find me the engineers and software if I have $150K to produced the 130nm Asic chip ? Thanks

dan, - 25-06-’13 23:39
mrb

dan: China is your market. You won’t be able to do it for $150k in the USA or Europe.

mrb, - 15-11-’13 12:31
brian piercy

Unfortunately the examples don’t provide a measure of the ASIC’s complexity. Pre-tapeout expenses (designers’ headcount) will be a function of how many testable features are included on the chip. In my experience I’ve NEVER seen an ASIC project team complete a design for less than $500K USD, regardless of location.

brian piercy, (URL) - 18-05-’14 19:44
mrb

brian: you are right. As I explained in the post, there are 2 extremes: a dumb ASIC like a Bitcoin mining core (which is in a way self-testing1), or a full-fledged new processor like the Cell. The vast majority of ASIC projects are a lot more complex than a Bitcoin mining core, so you will end up spending more than the numbers in this post. My point was to document what the basics costs are for an ultra-simple ASIC.

[1] If it finds SHA256 solutions at the expectetd rate, then it is 100% working.

mrb, - 22-05-’14 18:33
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