MILPITAS, Calif.--In the summer of 2011, a lone semiconductor
startup went "old school," as my colleague Dylan McGrath
put it. That's when he wrote about Touchstone Semiconductor getting
$12 million in venture funding, poised to make a splash in--of all
To some, it may have seemed like watching a car crash in slow
motion, with the brake-less vehicle careening toward a stand of huge
trees, the occupants blissfully unaware of their fate. These were former analog veterans starting a small company to take
business from huge, entrenched players in the analog space. For one of
those analog veterans, Touchstone
CEO Brett Fox, it was quite the opposite. In fact, it's been an exhilarating ride so far.
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To date, the company has rolled 35 products into the marketplace and
will finish calendar 2012 after adding another 25 to its portfolio.
"We got a lot coming," he said, including new analog comparators and
amplifiers. The company also is entering the ADC market place and
adding to other product lines. Next year, DACs and power management
devices. In a July interview with our reporter Ismini Scouras, Fox
said his company would go after "everything
in the signal path."
"Suddenly, we start looking like a full-fledged, catalog,
broad-based analog supplier...in essentially three years a time. Not
bad," he said in an interview at Touchstone offices here, a stone's
throw from Interstate 880 and a warm stroll down the street from
Linear Technology. In 2010 there were six designers in the company,
today Touchstone has twice as many, averaging 20 years' experience
and roughly 10 patents apiece. Fox and company are pulling in people
from Maxim and Linear, adding one new designer a quarter.
I asked him about competition, the nature of innovation, and venture
capital investment. Perhaps not surprisingly, Maxim, his alma mater,
It was fascinating to me when Touchstone came out of the gate happily describing itself as a second source supplier. The strategy made a ton of sense--but you just don't normally hear that from a chip startup. Most feel, I assume, that they have to have a more aggressive story to make a splash. But Fox and his colleagues knew what they were doing. And it seems like Touchstone is evolving to the next stage.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.