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Cypress semiconductor readies for 32bit PSoCs

Posted: 30 Apr 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Cypress? processor? PSoC? MCU?

A decade ago, Cypress Semiconductor made $50 million by betting on a new processor platform, the programmable system on chip (PSoC). More recently, the company is set to roll out the first of two products of a mid-life kicker that shores up a new drive into the 16 and 32bit microcontroller market.

It's been an up and down ride. Two years ago, PSoC hit a $450 million annual run rate, but after a market slowdown and some big consumer design wins went bust, it retrenched to a $250 million/year business.

This year, Cypress chief executive T.J. Rodgers forecasts a modest return to revenue growth for PSoC and Cypress as a whole, although gross margins may decline. We caught up with him right after a quarterly conference call when he delivered that message to analysts who responded by pounding down the price of Cypress shares.

"Since 8 a.m. this morning I lost about $19 million," Rodgers said when asked how the call went.

Without a pause, he dove into the details of a product line he sees reshaping the playing field in the $15 billion microcontroller market. "Never has one company put so much on one chip that's so flexible and sold it for a buck," he said.

First silicon on PSoC 4 came back from the fab ready for production. So in a sign of Rodgers' strong belief in the platform, he put it on the cover Cypress' 30th anniversary annual report.

The fourth generation is the first Cypress chip to use an ARM Cortex M0. The 4100 reaches up to 24MHz, with the core that ekes out 0.9 MIPS/MHz. It includes a library of programmable analogue functions and sells for prices starting at $1.

The 4200 gooses data rates to 48MHz and adds a library of programmable digital functions. Both are supported by the PSoC Creator 2.2 integrated design environment and come with developer kits that sell for $25.

Over the next two years, Cypress aims to expand the amount of memory and the programmable analogue and digital blocks on PSoC 4 by a factor of four or more. Meanwhile, Cypress engineers are already at work on a PSoC 7 generation, a new high-end line using an undisclosed ARM core.

To date, PSoC has focused mainly on low-end apps in the 8bit MCU space. Rodgers shows market research figures ranking Cypress in sixth place in 8bitters, ahead of NXP, Fujitsu, Toshiba and others thanks to its uptake so far.

But in the overall microcontroller market Cypress sits at number 12. The company's MCU revenues fell a whopping 30 per cent last year in part because the market slowed, some Cypress cell phone wins went sour and the company did not meaningfully participate in the 32bit sector that grew nearly eight per cent.

Carving a slice from the MCU market

The PSoC 4, combined with the Cortex M3-based PSoC 5, launched last year and aims to drive the platform into 32bit world.

"We've been wrapping ourselves around the axel of understanding the 32bit market where the sophistication of design and firmware is much higher and quality assurance is more difficult," said Rodgers. "But it was harder to break into the 8bit than the 32bit market because the 8bit designers had to move up a click in their use of programming tools," he added.

Rodgers believes PSoC is still well below the radar of FPGA companies such as Xilinx that are dipping into lower-end markets. Instead, he sees his competitors as microcontroller companies.

"They realise a naked MCU doesn't compete anymore, so they are putting more peripherals in them," Rodgers said. "They also are starting to make their peripherals tweak-able and make their software look like ours," he added.

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