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Freescale hands over MRAM biz to EverSpin

Posted: 11 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EverSpin spin off? MRAM? DRAM?

Freescale Semiconductor has announced plans to spin off its fledgling MRAM business, taking an approach executives at the chipmaker believe offers the most optimal way to commercialize a technology being positioned as an alternative to DRAM and flash memory products.

Austin, Texas-based Freescale said the spin off, named EverSpin Technologies and backed by a group of venture capital investors, would focus on the development, production and sale of MRAM products.

By spinning off the unit rather than continue the development and marketing of the MRAM technology in-house, Freescale hopes to accelerate its adoption by expanding the product base into new semiconductor products and widening the pool of potential customers worldwide.

"MRAM technology is a differentiating technology with numerous applications across the semiconductor market in standalone memory and embedded products," said Lisa Su, senior VP and chief technology officer for Freescale in a statement. "The decision to form a new company is intended to accelerate the adoption of MRAM across the entire suite of new applications."

MRAM is seen by many analysts as an alternative to traditional memory ICs because it promises high speed and low-power options with the density of DRAM and minus the volatility of flash memory products.

In addition to Freescale, other companies either pursuing the development or already marketing MRAM include NEC, Renesas and Toshiba.

Su explained in an interview with EETimes that Freescale decided to spin off its MRAM division and partner with venture investors in a bid to accelerate the adoption of the technology and expand the offering beyond the embedded semiconductor market.

"What we are really trying to do here is expand the MRAM market and the applications it can go into," Su said. "MRAM is a very new technology [and] Freescale is very focused in the embedded space while MRAM has applications outside the embedded space. This is an attempt to expand MRAM outside of the embedded market."

DRAM, flash memory alternatives?
Semiconductor vendors and their OEM customers have been trying for years to develop alternatives to DRAM and flash memory products to offset technology limitations seen in the traditional memory products.

Alternatives currently under development are MRAMs, FRAM (ferroelectric random access memory), PCRAM (phase-change random access memory) CBRAM (conductive-bridging random access memory) and organic random access memory.

Although volume production of MRAM is limited to a few companies, including Freescale, it is considered alongside FRAM as the most viable option to DRAM and flash memory.

Rather than continue the development and commercialization of MRAM in-house, Freescale said it is teaming up with a group of private investors, including New Venture Partners, Sigma Partners, Lux Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Epic Ventures.

Freescale declined to disclose the shareholding structure of EverSpin but said it appointed Saied Tehrani chief operating officer of the new company.

"We intend to recruit a CEO," said Steve Socolof, managing partner of New Venture Partners LLC in an interview. "The board would have representation from the investor group and Freescale would participate."

Freescale's Su said the spin off of the MRAM business wasn't part of any ongoing reorganization at the $6 billion revenue company, noting that the division wasn't a major contributor to annual sales.

"The main thing we want to get across is that there are many routes to market for a special technology like MRAM," Su said. We have a lot of confidence in our venture partners and we are going to try our best to make it successful."

EverSpin's COO Tehrani noted that the MRAM technology is still trying to gain traction in the market and added that Freescale is one of the company best positioned to make advances in the sector because it introduced the first products two years ago and is in volume production.

"The potential for MRAM to impact the way commercial and consumer devices are developed and brought to market is enormous," Tehrani said. "The Everspin team looks forward to expanding on the technical and market successes that we achieved within Freescale."

EverSpin will be based in Chandler, Arizona. It will be taking over ownership of Freescale's MRAM manufacturing assets. It will also continue to supply MRAM products to Freescale among other customers, the companies said.

- Bolaji Ojo
EE Times

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