Putting a new spin on an old craft, Summit Microelectronics Inc. is taking on the venerable leaders of the linear-IC world with a single-chip programmable-analog technique designed to sim-plify the design of large telecommunications and network systems.
Recreated two years ago from the ashes of now-defunct EEPROM supplier Exel Microelectronics Inc., Campbell, Calif.-based Summit tends to be classed among the rank and file looking to leverage low-margin non-volatile memory into higher-value customizable analog or microcontroller designs.
However, Summit contends that it has uncovered a $1 billion niche in the precision-analog market no other supplier can effectively fill.
Its powerful mix of linear and non-volatile memory is getting the tiny company in the door at major OEMs, including Cisco Systems, Ericsson, and Sun Microsystems-no small feat considering its nearest rivals are analog-IC giants such as Analog Devices, Linear Technology, and Maxim Integrated Products, according to Rick Orlando, president and chief executive of Summit.
"Simply put, the big difference between us and them is programmability," Orlando said.
Analog companies have long touted the programmability of their parts, but what this has really entailed was a long process of trial and error using "a pile of resistors and capacitors, and a bunch of algebraic equations to 'program' the device for the particular requirements of an individual system," Orlando said.
From a design point of view, Summit offers OEMs a single analog component that can be configured for different systems through a simple programming step, allowing the majority of design time to be spent on the high-value DSP or ASIC portion of a system. Using a PC-based programmer, designers can set the optimal voltage level of a device at a given specification while it's in the system. OEMs can then order production parts to their custom specification, and be confident they will work in the end system, according to Orlando.
Although analog is still something of a black art to digital designers, Summit's real magic is EEPROM, which it blends with precision linear functions to pruduce stand-ard products customizable up through the final manufacturing process, said Bruce Graham, a partner with Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), Menlo Park, Calif.
"What Summit has is a proprietary technology that is enabling communications system companies to do a lot of exciting things they couldn't do before," Graham said.
This month, the company will unveil the SMH4803, a programmable, distributed-power hot-swap controller designed to allow large network backplanes to be reconfigured without shutting down the system. With 128 programming variations, the chip, which sells for less than $4, can replace $10 worth of discrete silicon on a single line card, according to Graham.
An additional 4 Kbits of on-chip EEPROM is thrown in for board serialization or configuration, Summit said.
The SMH4803 programmable hot-swap controller for 20- to 500-V systems will ship in a 20-pin SOIC, and is priced at $3.75 in 1,000s. A 20-pin TSSOP version is slated for release in the first quarter of 2000.
To date, Summit's hot-swap family includes a general-purpose hot-swap controller and a programmable device for CompactPCI hot-swap systems. The company also ships non-volatile digital-to-analog converters as well as programmable supervisory circuits.
Venture-backed by BVP and August Capital, also based in Menlo Park, the company has $4.8 million paid-in capital, and plans to seek $2 million to $3 million in second- round financing by year's end.