A fabless start-up spun out of Cadence Design Systems Inc. plans to push the MIPS processor architecture into the low-power personal-communications space dominated by ARM-based designs.
Led by former executives from Advanced Micro Devices, Cirrus Logic, and Motorola, Alchemy Semiconductor Inc. will rely on the former Digital Equipment Corp. design team that helped create the Alpha and StrongARM processors. The company plans to manufacture its first product by early next year.
Alchemy was formed last year using seed money from Cadence, San Jose, and today will announce a $15 million financing round with investments from venture-capital firms Austin Ventures, Telos Ventures, and US Venture Partners.
The Austin, Texas, company has licensed the 32-bit MIPS architecture from MIPS Technologies Inc., and is developing a high-performance, low-power core that will include specific peripheral functions aimed at what Alchemy calls the "Internet-edge device" market. The company has engaged Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. as its foundry partner.
Alchemy plans to sample its initial device this fall. Device specifications are scheduled to be presented at the Embedded Processor Forum in San Jose in June. The offering will include such peripherals as a multiply and accumulate unit and Ethernet and DMA controllers.
The device will be performance-competitive with existing processors such as Motorola's 68K/ColdFire and PowerPC, but will offer lower power dissipation, said John Peskuric, director of product marketing. "The MIPS road map is along 266-, 350-, 400-MHZ designs, but those devices are all [delivering] 3 to 5 W [of power dissipation]," he said. "We're targeting half-W and below, which will allow us to get into the handheld, battery-powered applications coming into existence."
Alchemy says its offering will initially be used in applications like Internet gateways, firewalls, routers, and mixers, but the goal is emerging PDA and Internet-enabled portable devices.
Keith Diefendorff, an analyst at MicroDesign Resources, Sebastopol, Calif., said moving the MIPS architecture into low-power applications could prove successful. "There's nothing inherent about the ARM architecture that has allowed it to be low power," he said. "Low power is about good engineering and good circuit design. It's not about the instruction set. MIPS, as an embedded core, is very popular and well supported by design tools. I think there are definitely a lot of people who, given a low-power MIPS alternative, would take it."
Alchemy's president and chief executive, Eric Broockman, is a former vice president and general manager of Cirrus Logic's Crystal Semiconductor division, and was a senior engineer at IBM Corp.
Other co-founders include Greg Hoeppner, vice president of engineering, who was involved in developing Digital's Alpha and StrongARM families; Phil Pompa, vice president of sales and marketing, who helped market AMD's 29K architecture and the PowerPC at Motorola; and Rick Witek, chief technical officer, the co-architect of Alpha and a developer of the ARM and PowerPC processors.
Other founders are Jim Montanaro, engineering director, who helped design the first two Alpha processors and Strong-ARM; Richard Reis, engineering director, who worked on Motorola's 68000 and 88000 processors and helped Cyrix Corp. develop its X86 processors; and Ray Stephany, engineering director, who also assisted in developing the Alpha and StrongARM processors.
"These people have built a lot of relationships throughout the industry," Peskuric said, adding that Alchemy is working with several undisclosed customers and has the potential for fast growth.
"We have plans for an IPO as soon as we possibly can; and if you're going to do an IPO, you need to show you can get over $100 million," he said. "Ten years ago, it was difficult to compete with a Motorola, IBM, or Intel. Customers didn't trust you could get capacity and provide the support. The foundry capacity out there now, the network of support [for] the MIPS architecture, and the financial backing we have in place leaves us feeling very comfortable about having a good business."