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Cypress obtains SOI technology from Honeywell

Posted: 25 Nov 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Semiconductor-processing machines? silicon-on-insulator? chip transistor? dram? wafer?

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. has acquired Honeywell's silicon-on-insulator (SOI) know-how and will build its first chips using the high-performance transistor technology next year, according to Cypress president and CEO T.J. Rodgers.

Under a five-year agreement, the two companies are co-developing a 0.135m process technology based on SOI, which adds a thin sheath of glass-like insulator material just beneath chip transistors as a way to reduce capacitance and boost transistor speed.

The companies are now developing circuit libraries for the SOI process and expect to produce their first test chip next month. The process should be ready for volume production at Cypress' fabrication facility in Bloomington, Minnesota by 2H of 2003, said Chris Seams, EVP of technology and manufacturing at Cypress.

Honeywell will build SOI-based devices at the same fab under a foundry arrangement. "We exploit the commercial market and they exploit the military market," Rodgers said.

The deal, which was one year in the making, was described as a technology exchange between the two companies. Honeywell, which has been making SOI-based chips for military electronics for more than a decade, needed access to a process technology finer than 0.255m, Seams said.

Cypress, meanwhile, wanted to keep pace with other IC makers that have adopted SOI, including IBM, Intel, and Advanced Micro Devices. But it did not want to spend $40 million to develop the transistor technology internally, Rodgers said.

Possible targets

Cypress said it has several products that would be a good fit for SOI technology. In data communications, the company is considering applying SOI to its quad-port digital switching devices. SOI could also be used to make capacitor-less DRAMs with exceptionally high bit densities, Seams said.

Other candidates include Bluetooth and wireless USB devices, which would benefit from the low-power consumption and noise characteristics conferred by SOI. In his presentation, Rodgers noted that the lowest power Bluetooth radio ever reported, from startup Silicon Wave Inc., utilizes SOI technology.

"You can get up to 80 percent savings on active power, so you get a choice of using it for more performance or spending it all on power savings," Seams said.

Cypress' decision to bring SOI technology in-house is consistent with its desire to manufacture most of its chips internally. Unlike many chip companies that own their own fabs, Cypress has resisted farming out large portions of its chip manufacturing to external foundries. The company produces 85 to 90 percent of its chips in-house, and Seams said the company can still produce a "plain-vanilla" CMOS at a lower cost than foundries.

Indeed, Rodgers said the gross margins on Cypress' USB devices have suffered because many of them were made by foundries. "Wafers from foundries cost twice as much as those made internally by Cypress. Until we get those things inside, we are going to have low gross margins in the personal communications group," he said.

- Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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