SAN JOSE--once the castoff SRAM unit of PHY-chip supplier Enable Semiconductor Corp., NanoAmp Solutions Inc. has regrouped with a new identity and mission.
Following Enable's acquisition this year by Lucent Technologies Inc., NanoAmp set its sights on a wider market niche, using its ultralow-voltage SRAM as an entry point.
"The spinoff was a real opportunity to find out who we were," said Mike McCoy, vice president of marketing at NanoAmp in San Jose. "We didn't want to be just memory. The thing we're good at is making low-power circuits."
NanoAmp hasn't abandoned the SRAM market, though. The company is eyeing a burgeoning market for low-power SRAM in cellular equipment in China, where subscriptions are projected to grow from 25 million this year to 45 million in 2000, NanoAmp said.
Portable communications is just one aspect of NanoAmp's three-pronged thrust. It hopes to take a lead position in power-sensitive medical implants. Next year, the company will venture beyond SRAM to launch a line of low-power ASSPs. The devices will integrate NanoAmp's own 8-bit microcontroller architecture and memory blocks with power sources such as batteries, solar cells, RF energy, mechanical motion, and thermoelectric power.
The company has licensed cell libraries from Virtual Silicon Technology Inc., and will seek partners in RF and power conversion.
At the heart of NanoAmp's technology is a no-waste practice of turning circuits on when needed, off when not, eliminating standby power, and employing the lowest possible threshold voltage. Using this technique, NanoAmp's 2-Mbit SRAM received a 16X reduction in power consumption over its 256-Kbit part, while dropping voltage from 3.3 to 1 V resulted in a nine-times power reduction alone, the company claimed.
It's this extreme power savings NanoAmp hopes will provide an edge in a low-power-SRAM market already well served by Samsung Semiconductor Inc. and Cypress Semiconductor Corp. Its greatest advantage will come when cellular handsets migrate to 2 V. "If we can get [designed] in first, Samsung will have a harder time [competing] with higher-power parts," McCoy said.
The supplier has raised $10 million in venture capital, and had its low-power ICs designed in by customers such as Maxon, Medtronic, Motorola, and Siemens. Its first non-PC SRAMs include a smart-card IC and an SRAM/flash combination chip, both being developed for undisclosed U.S.-based customers, he said.
In 2000, NanoAmp plans to expand its low-power SRAM to include 4-, 8-, and 16-Mbit parts, introduce a fully integrated pager operating from a single 1-V supply, and partner with flash vendors to develop SRAM/flash devices.