Startup SuVolta Promises to Cut Chip Power Consumption in Half

SuVolta, which came out of stealth mode, says its PowerShrink platform can cut the voltage in chips by 30 percent and the power consumption by half, key points when talking about processors for mobile devices.

A startup is unveiling a platform that officials say will cut the power consumption in processors by more than half, a move that makes it the latest entrant into an increasingly competitive mobile chip market.

SuVolta, a six-year-old company that came out of stealth mode June 6, is introducing its PowerShrink platform, which officials said reduces power consumption through new transistor technology called Deeply Depleted Channel-or DDC-CMOS technology. The PowerShrink platform also includes DDC-optimized circuits and design techniques, all of which together helps drive down voltage by up to 30 percent or more, which greatly reduces power consumption.

At the same time, SuVolta's technology also reduces power leakage by 80 percent, maintains the chip's performance and does not increase production costs. Officials said the PowerShrink platform can be used for a variety of IC (integrated circuits) platforms, including chips, SRAMs (static random-access memory) and SoC (system-on-a-chip) architectures, such as chips designed by ARM Holding, whose technology is found in most mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.

SuVolta's technology, which officials said should go into production in 2012, comes as chip-makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are driving down the power consumption of their x86-based processors as they look to gain a share of the red-hot mobile chip market, which currently is dominated by ARM-designed chips from such vendors as Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia.

With the rise of such devices as smartphones and tablets, the emphasis in processors has quickly shifted from simply performance gains to power consumption. SuVolta executives say their PowerShrink platform and DDC technology will help in driving down power consumption while maintaining performance.

"Power consumption has become the limiting factor in the amount of functionality that can be packed into mobile computing devices like smartphones, tablets and notebooks," Bruce McWilliams, president and CEO at SuVolta, said in a statement. "Lowering semiconductor power consumption has far-reaching benefits for the range of applications and products that can be developed."

SuVolta's DDC CMOS technology, with its unique channel structure, essential reduces the electrical variation of the threshold voltage of the chip's transistors. This helps drive down the power consumption, which officials said is crucial when scaling chip process technologies and adding features.

"The biggest problem in semiconductors today is not performance but power," SuVolta CTO Scott Thompson said in a statement. "SuVolta is solving the power impasse by significantly reducing transistor threshold voltage variation and therefore enabling supply voltage scaling. SuVolta's DDC sub-micron technology addresses threshold voltage control by limiting random and other sources of dopant fluctuation while simultaneously improving carrier mobility and reducing device capacitance so as to maintain circuit speed at much lower power."

At the same time, SuVolta's platform can be used with current CMOS design rules and process flows, according to company officials. This helps keep production costs down because the platform can be built using existing fabs, and won't require chip manufacturers to invest in new fabs or equipment. By comparison, Intel is expected to spend millions of dollars to upgrade its fabs to produce chips with its new 3D Tri-Gate transistor technology, which the giant chip maker introduced in May.

SuVolta is looking to license its technology to chip makers. Fujitsu Semiconductor is the first manufacturer to license the technology. The two companies have begun joint development in the push to commercialize the technology, SuVolta officials said.

The SuVolta team has got some deep industry experience. Thompson, the CTO, spent 12 years at Intel as a Fellow working on chip production processes. McWilliams, the CEO, had led Tessera Technologies, which also develops and licenses technologies for new electronic devices.

The 45-person company, which received $22 million in funding in 2010, is backed by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. One of the firm's partners is Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, who also sits on the SuVolta board of directors.

"SuVolta's PowerShrink platform can greatly reduce the power consumption of digital ICs, a $130 [billion] market," Joy said in a statement. "This will enable straightforward power reductions in existing ICs and libraries, and even greater improvements in new, and more aggressive designs which use additional capabilities of the SuVolta PowerShrink platform."