The IP market is growing rapidly. We estimate that more than 11 billion chips containing CPU cores shipped in 2012. The CPU-IP business increased a commendable 16% in 2012, driven by growth in tablets and microcontrollers. Although strong, this increase fell short of 2011, which saw 25% growth. We expect CPU IP to maintain a 15% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2017 as the mobile market matures and microcontroller growth slows.
The graphics (GPU) IP market is taking off: shipments were less than 90 million units as recently as 2008, but they exceeded 630 million units in 2012, aided by rapid smartphone growth. We expect the GPU-IP business to exhibit a 22% CAGR from 2012 to 2017, reaching 1.7 billion units at the end of the forecast period. Our forecast does not include in-house GPU designs such as Qualcomm's and Nvidia's.
Cellular handsets continue to be the highest-volume market for CPU and GPU IP. A single handset may have separate CPUs for the cellular baseband, application subsystem, and peripheral functions such as Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, touchscreen, and power management. Other important markets for IP include chips for digital TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, tablet computers, and set-top boxes; processors for personal media players; processors for home-networking gear such as broadband gateways and Wi-Fi routers; storage controllers for hard drives and flash-memory drives; and ASICs for communications infrastructure and enterprise routers.
Because of their growing complexity, most of these systems are continually using more and faster CPUs. Except where performance concerns outweigh those of power, cost, and size, these CPUs are integrated into a larger-scale chip. Chip designers face a make-versus-buy decision for CPUs; most choose to buy (license) an IP core and focus their efforts on combining IP blocks, peripherals, and custom logic into a design ideal for their end application.
The leading supplier of CPU IP is ARM, whose licensees are shipping more than eight billion ARM CPUs per year. Although the company's CPUs serve in nearly every handset, half ship in nonmobile applications. The company's designs include low-end CPUs, such as Cortex-M4, and high-performance superscalar designs, such as Cortex‑R7, Cortex-A7, and Cortex‑A15. ARM entered the GPU market in 2006; its Mali-200 and Mali-400 (MP) products have gained significant design wins and are now the number-two graphics offering behind Imagination's PowerVR line.
Imagination Technologies has been supplying GPU IP since the 1990s, and many top-tier mobile-device makers use the company's GPUs. Its PowerVR SGX line supporting OpenGL ES 2.0 is available in multiple configurations, providing various performance levels and optional DirectX compatibility. Although Mali is a clear threat, Imagination has a solid customer list that should be bolstered now that products using the next-generation "Rogue" GPU, which adds OpenGL ES 3.0 support, are finally coming to market. Vivante, a startup with highly area-efficient GPUs, is also challenging Imagination.
Imagination acquired ARM's long-time CPU rival, MIPS Technologies, in early 2013. Prior to the acquisition, MIPS released a complete refresh of its product line in the microAptiv, interAptiv, and proAptiv family of CPUs. These new cores could help fend off ARM's incursion into traditional MIPS strongholds of digital TVs and disc players.
Taking a different tack, Tensilica provides an innovative customizable processor architecture as well as preconfigured designs. Its flexible architecture enables it to compete for designs requiring a CPU, high-performance DSP, audio processor, video engine, or baseband-processing DSP. In 2013, Tensilica was a gobbled up by a larger company—the EDA vendor Cadence. Cadence will continue supplying Tensilica IP.
After acquiring the ARC CPU architecture from Virage Logic, Synopsys expanded its DesignWare library to include configurable ARC cores and complete subsystems, such as SoundWave for audio. With considerable success in flash controllers, ARC appeared in 1.3 billion chips in 2012, ranking second in CPU-IP units.
IBM offers CPU cores outside of its own ASIC business, making its popular PowerPC architecture more accessible to chip designers. Its licensable cores are aging, however, and IBM shows no interest in refreshing them. The company has lost the new generation of game consoles, and networking customers such as AppliedMicro and LSI are switching from IBM cores to ARM.
A number of smaller CPU-IP vendors—such as Andes, Beyond Semiconductor, and Cortus—offer alternatives to customers for whom compatibility with a more well-known instruction set is less important than small die size and low licensing fees. Between them, these vendors saw 2012 shipments of nearly 700 million chips using their IP.
Each designer has a different emphasis on design parameters for the IP it uses, such as interfaces, available I/O bandwidth, power consumption, die area, performance, instruction-set compatibility, and roadmap. Therefore, selecting the right IP is a complex and difficult task. This report details each vendor's products, strategy, and market position, with a focus on high-performance CPU and GPU cores.