SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Unity Semiconductor Corp. has reportedly ousted its chief executive and the company is moving from a fab to an intellectual-property (IP) model, according to sources.
On Unity's Web site, Darrell Rinerson is no longer listed as the company’s chief executive. Rinerson, a founder of Unity, is still a board member, according to the site. Rinerson did not immediately respond to a phone message left at his home.
Unity's Web site lists as president Richard Chernicoff, who is reportedly now in charge of the startup. Sources said the board ousted Rinerson over concerns with the company’s strategy.
After eight years' in R&D, Unity last year finally unveiled its nonvolatile memory technology and also obtained $22 million in funding. The company's technology, called CMOx, is based on the use of new materials called conductive metal oxides. With the technology, Unity claims to have devised a passive rewritable crosspoint memory array that requires no transistors in a memory cell.
Unity (Sunnyvale, Calif.) has been processing 64-kilobit products for two years, 64-megabit products for one year, and is in design of a 64-gigabit product that is now close to tapeout. The 64-Gbit chip was slated for pilot production in the second half of 2010, with volume production in 2Q 2011.
As part of the plan, Unity was looking to build a manufacturing plant or team up with a memory company and use that facility. The company was talking to Fujitsu Ltd. and others, but it’s unclear if a deal went through.
The downturn most likely hurt Unity’s efforts to build a plant. So instead of building a fab-like plant, Unity is now looking at in IP model like that of Rambus Inc. and others, according to a source. "They want to license the technology," according to the source.
David Eggleston, vice president of Unity, declined to comment on the change of management or strategy. "Unity is in the final stage of completing a deal with a major memory company that will advance the state of our CMOx memory technology. As a result, we are unable to comment on the points you have raised at this time," he said in an e-mail.
Drew Lanza, a venture capitalist at Morgenthaler Ventures and member of Unity's board, said: "I don't think I can make many comments. Darrell's role at Unity has changed, but he's still involved. Please meet Rich Chernicoff who is the chief cat herder at Unity these days. Perhaps he can offer up more."
Do the math, people!
"the company is moving from a fab to an intellectual-property (IP) model" + "Unity is in the final stage of completing a deal with a major memory company" = "we are selling our IP to Micron for next to nothing."
Leakage current plagues all switching devices: memories, diodes, transistors. Even stored charge leaks. You have to operate orders of magnitude above leakage, preferably. Another interesting consideration, is whether voltage or current is the cause or the effect.
Having worked in this area for many years, I feel most of the next-generation memories have serious challenges to implementation. Widespread adoption will take at least 5-10 years to happen, if at all. Have listed a few challenges to each memory type below (these challenges are well-known in the industry).
(1) Unity CMOx - Retention is well-known to be a challenge (10 years 85C or even 70C has not been demoed by Unity yet at 1-3uA reset current), getting large array sizes required for competing with NAND needs a bidirectional selector which is again very challenging, Unity uses some pretty exotic fab-unfriendly materials like Pt and PCMO. On the positive side, I have never seen 1uA reset current demonstrated by anyone else.
(2) Phase change memory - Reset current numbers are greater than 100uA at 45nm, and these numbers don't scale with area if you want to keep thermal disturb a non-issue (Ireset scales with linear dimension). Essentially, when you scale to 16nm, wiring resistance shoots up exponentially, but reset current is still very high, so IR drop budget increases. Let's say you have 40kohm wiring and periphery resistance at 45nm, then IR drop budget is 40kohm * 100uA = 4V!!!! This restricts array size, and makes it hard to compete with NAND, which is the biggest market for NVM today. On the positive side, it is a fairly mature technology, and if executed very well, could give NOR a run for its money.
(3) RRAM - Requires bidirectional selector, there is a tradeoff between retention and reset current that is difficult to manage, reset current doesn't scale (for the same filament width and retention performance). On the positive side, doesn't require exotic materials.
The IP model requires extensive legal expertise and very deep pockets. Tessera, Rambus, Interdigital & Tivo all have big scares to show. Multinationals (apart from Japanese) may opt to try to bleed to death a startup by draging it through the US court system instead of taking a license. With legal costs at up to 100k/day, they easily succeed with 95% of the adversaries and can eventually sign the surviving 5% with little penalty.
Timing is critical. As long as the perception is DRAM and Flash have some ways to go, the chance to replace these directly is next to impossible. But these other memories are excellent in their own right (higher speed, higher endurance, for example), they could drive some other applications in some niches here and there. RRAM has an advantage in requiring virtually no new materials.
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.