Illustration of IP core in a question mark.
April 5, 2023

What Is Intellectual Property Core (IP Core)? Managing Semiconductor IP

IP Lifecycle Management

In today’s competitive environment, chip development cycles are compressed, causing design teams to reuse semiconductor IP cores to accelerate time to market. Identifying strategies and opportunities for IP reuse is often a major business goal in the semiconductor industry, as it can streamline workflows and help prevent unnecessary rework. In fact, a wide range of tools -- including Helix IPLM (formerly Methodics IPLM) -- now exist to fulfill this in-demand function. 

But what is semiconductor IP and IP core (or intellectual property core)? Below, we define what is IP core -- including soft IP and hard IP. We also provide best practices to help better manage IP to enable more effective IP core reuse, which can accelerate semiconductor design and embedded device development.

Read along to learn more about IP core, or jump to the section that interests you the most:

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What Is IP Core?

An intellectual property core, or IP core, is a block of logic or data that is used in the creation of a semiconductor chip. An IP core is usually the intellectual property of a particular person or company. 

IP cores can be used when making a field programmable gate array (FPGA), an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), or any other type of digital, analog, or mixed integrated circuit.

IP cores are created throughout the design process and can be turned into components for reuse. 3rd party IPs can also be purchased and integrated into semiconductor designs. There are different categories for IP cores including hard IP cores and soft IP cores.

What Is a Soft IP Core?

A soft IP core is generally offered as synthesizable register-transfer level (RTL) models. These are developed in a hardware description language such as SystemVerilog, VHDL, or occasionally are provided synthesized with a gate level netlist. The advantage of a soft IP core is that they can be customized during the physical design phase and mapped to any process technology.

What is a Hard IP Core?

A hard IP core is one that has the logic implementation and the physical implementation. In other words, the physical layout of a hard macro-IP is fixed in a particular process technology.


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Challenges to Managing IP Core

To get the most out of semiconductor IP and reuse it effectively, it is important to manage IP cores -- and other design components -- properly. But managing IP is a difficult and complex process due to challenges around visibility, accessibility, and context.

Limited Visibility

After an IP core is created and used in a design, where does it go? For many organizations, it can end up archived on a server somewhere. To access the IP core for IP reuse, teams first need to be able to find it. With limited visibility across teams and projects, it is almost impossible to know what is available.

To incorporate an IP core into project correctly, teams need to rely on the institutional knowledge of their peers and/or spend time investigating the current state and often how it evolved to that state. With ever-accelerating design timelines, your team likely doesn't have the time to spend researching IP cores, determining their quality, accessing their security, and selecting the appropriate version. But you need to ensure that you're incorporating the right IP core at the right time, otherwise you risk delays, avoidable re-spins, and potential IP security issues.

Complex Context

Understanding an IP core involves understanding its current state and context. Which other projects have used it? What bugs have been discovered throughout the development process? As companies move away from a project-centric approach and toward an IP-centric approach, it is important to understand the full context of an IP core. 

Chart your path from a project-centric to IP-centric approach to semiconductor design.
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A Better Way to Manage IP Cores

Using a dedicated IP management tool like Helix IPLM addresses these visibility, accessibility, and context issues. It provides a scalable IP lifecycle management platform that tracks IP cores, associated metadata, and more across projects, providing end-to-end traceability and enabling effortless IP reuse. This helps teams spend less time searching for IPs or duplicating existing IP cores, which streamlines and accelerates the overall design process.

What If Everything Could be Managed Like IP?

Thinking about IP as just the IP cores that you're incorporating into your chip design can potentially limit IP reuse. That’s because much more goes into a chip outside of just soft IP or hard IP.

Helix IPLM is the first tool of its kind to effectively manage your IP within your design workflow, and across your enterprise. Because in Helix IPLM, anything can be an IP. You can set up your system to include the following components and elements as IP:

  • Engineering environment/configurations
  • Design (WIP) IP
  • PDKs & libraries
  • Usage tracking
  • Extensions
  • Release management
  • Integrations
  • IP generators
  • And more

Allowing everything be versioned as IP means that you have a metadata trail that is traceable across every component in your products’ IP lifecycle. You can use labels to indicate IP cores from particular vendors, specific compliance standards, and more to make it easier to incorporate it into other projects. 

When it comes to managing permissions and setting up events, Helix IPLM can protect down to the individual IP level. You can also create permissions to restrict access and events so that you are notified when an IP changes.

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Centralized Bill of Materials for Semiconductor IP

Having a central platform for semiconductor IP management, independent of your data management tool, provides complete traceability and enhanced visibility into how an IP is used. It creates an IP ecosystem that can enable IP discovery and reuse. It can also be used to plan and execute your IP Bill of Materials.

That's because Helix IPLM has a Component & IP BoM (CIPB) Planning Module that works with your ERM and manufacturing-focused PLM tool to provide high level data on IP that matches your requirements. It enables hierarchical planning on all IPs, 3rd party and internal, that can be used across an organization.

The Helix IPLM CIPB Planning Module gives you a holistic view of your software and hardware IP. This helps teams deliver a single, unified BoM to manufacturing.

Together, these help you maintain consistency throughout your semiconductor IP design process.


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Improve Semiconductor IP Management

Take your IP cores and semiconductor design to the next level. With Helix IPLM by Perforce, you can qualify an IP core for inclusion knowing that it has been properly vetted and verified. Create an IP catalog for your teams and implement a flexible workflow that promotes innovation while keeping everything secure.

Helix IPLM is trusted by 9 of the 10 top semiconductor companies to help ensure that design teams are able to work as efficiently as possible, while maintaining full traceability and IP security — no matter the source.

Connect with one of our IP experts to learn how Perforce can help you improve semiconductor IP management and streamline your design process. You can get answers to any questions you may have, request a demo or a quote, and gain access to evaluation resources to see how Helix IPLM can benefit your business.



Editor's Note: This blog was first published in May 2022 and was updated for quality and accuracy in December 2023.

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