NetSpeed Systems, a three-year-old network-on-a-chip (NoC) vendor, received a vote of confidence in November by raising a second round of funding from Intel Capital and Walden-Riverwood Ventures. Although the dollar amount was undisclosed, it will strengthen the startup’s position versus established rivals like Sonics and Arteris. NetSpeed also faces growing competition from ARM, whose licensable cache-coherent interconnects are becoming more sophisticated and are encroaching on some territory the NoC vendors have staked out.
NetSpeed says it has won some customers for its Orion and Gemini NoCs, but none that it can yet disclose. Those designs target mobile systems, midrange servers, high-end enterprise networks, and FPGAs.
The growing complexity of SoC designs is creating more opportunities for licensable NoCs. These configurable fabrics are one more piece of intellectual property (IP) that’s often better obtained ready-made than designed from scratch—just like the CPUs, GPUs, and peripheral cores that NoCs weave together on a chip. This trend is particularly compelling for large-scale designs that integrate dozens or even hundreds of different IP cores on an SoC.
At the recent Linley Processor Conference, NetSpeed made a general case for licensing a NoC and a specific case for licensing its own NoCs. The general case is easy: leading-edge SoCs are becoming too complex for simple buses and crossbars. The specific case is more difficult to make, because NoCs, unlike processors, have few objective metrics by which to compare them. To succeed, NetSpeed must prove its technology is better at hiding the complexity of SoC designs and thereby encourage more companies to tackle SoC projects.