The development is occurring as Chinese companies become more proficient at handling the more design-intensive soft IP, said Chu Lung, president of Asia-Pacific operations for Cadence Design Systems. "Perhaps before, because they did not know how to deal with the soft cores, they would just go to the foundry and use the hard cores," the executive said. "But more and more, as the engineers gain experience, people are using the soft cores in their designs."
Generally, engineers prefer using soft cores, as long as they come with good design tools that cut down on the time learning and tweaking the RTL. Soft cores offer a lot of design flexibility and area optimization, which helps in any competitive market but especially the cost-sensitive ones on which Chinese companies focus.
MIPS Technologies Inc. does 95 percent of its business in soft cores, said Jack Browne, vice president of marketing. But most of the 5 percent of the business accounted for by hard cores is in Taiwan and China. The 11 deals that MIPS has done in China have been spit almost evenly between soft and hard cores, but Browne believes Chinese companies will lean more toward soft cores in the future.
"There has always been some risk in selling the RTL in China," he said. But he believes that Chinese customers looking to do soft cores will add a higher level of innovation to the chip, such as custom instructions.
That means their interests and MIPS' interests "are definitely linked" when it comes to protecting the IP, Browne said.