- VLSI Technology
company_name = VLSI Technology, Inc.
company_type = Subsidiary
San Jose, California
VLSI Embedded Systems Application-specific integrated circuit
owner = Philips Electronics (Since
VLSI Technology, Inc was a company which designed and manufactured custom and semi-custom ICs. The company was based in
Silicon Valley, with headquarters at 1109 McKay Drive in San Jose, California. Along with LSI Logic, VLSI Technology defined the leading edge of the application-specific integrated circuit(ASIC) business, which accelerated the push of powerful embedded systemsinto affordable products.
The company was founded in 1979 by a trio from
Fairchild Semiconductorby way of Synertek - Jack Balletto, Dan Floyd, Gunnar Wetlesen - and by Doug Fairbairn of Xerox PARCand Lambda (later VLSI Design) magazine.
Alfred J. Stein became the
CEOof the company in 1982. Subsequently VLSI built its first fab in San Jose; eventually a second fab was built in San Antonio, Texas.
VLSI had its
initial public offeringin 1983, and was listed on the stock marketas (nasdaq2|VLSI).
Advanced tools for VLSI design
Thanks to its Xerox PARC heritage, VLSI was an important pioneer in the
electronic design automationindustry. It offered a sophisticated package of tools, originally based on the 'lambda-based' design style advocated by Carver Meadand Lynn Conway.
VLSI became the an early vendor of standard cell (cell-based technology) to the merchant market in the late 80s where the other ASIC-focused company, LSI Logic, focused on
gate arrays. Prior to VLSI's cell-based offering, the technology had been primarily available only within large vertically integrated companies with semiconductor units such as AT&Tand IBM.
VLSI's design tools eventually included not only design entry and simulation but eventually cell-based routing (chip compiler), a datapath compiler, and a state machine compiler. Few companies could match a few of these tools and none could match the breadth of VLSI's offering.
Unfortunately, for all VLSI's competence in design tools, they were a laggard in their semiconductor technology. VLSI's 1.5 µm technology was far from industry leading in either performance or density and VLSI had done virtually no work in developing a 1.0 µm library as the rest of the industry moved to that geometry in the late 80s. At the 11th hour (some would say 13th hour) VLSI struck a deal with
Hitachiand finally released a 1.0 µm library (actually more of a 1.2 µm library with a 1.0 µm gate).
As VLSI struggled to gain parity with the rest of the industry in semiconductor technology, the clock was ticking on the viability of design tools tied to a single fab. Cadence was dominating physical design and
Synopsyswas dominating the exploding field of design synthesis. As VLSI's tools were being eclipsed, VLSI waited too long to open the tools up to other fabs and Compass Design Automationwas never a viable competitor to industy leaders.
Meanwhile, VLSI poorly timed its entry into the mercant high speed
SRAMmarket previously owned by Cypress and IDT as all the large semiconductor companies built high speed SRAMs with cost structures VLSI could never match. VLSI quickly withdrew taking a huge loss.
Similarly, VLSI sat on the early Acorn processor technology for years without even investing in a working C compiler. ARM Ltd was formed in 1990 and VLSI became just one vendor of the powerful ARM processor after ARM finally funded their own tools. Lack of funding had squandered VLSI's years of monopoly of the Acorn
Only in PC
chipsets, did VLSI dominate in the early 90s. This had been a minimally supported product developed by five engineers that led to a huge business for VLSI that almost equaled its ASIC business in revenue (much more profitable initially) but VLSI eventually ceded the market to Intel (VLSI's eventual chipset partner).
VLSI also had an early partnership with PMC, a design group that had been part of British Columbia Bell. Instead of merging with PMC and developing a double poly process, the telecom management at VLSI opted to go it alone. They struggled to design chips as simple as a single T1 LIU in multiple spins (eventually giving up) as PMC eventually merged with Sierra and formed the ultra successful
PMC Sierra, one of the most important telecom ASSP vendors in history. Once again, a toxic brew of incompetence let them down.
Scientists and innovations from the 'design technology' part of VLSI found their way to
Cadence Design Systems(by way of Redwood Design Automation), Synopsys (by way of Compass Design Automation; was sold to Avant! Corporation, which itself was recently bought by Synopsys.
VLSI maintained operations throughout the USA, and in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Singaporeand Taiwan. One of its key sites was in Tempe, Arizona, where a family of highly successful chipsets was developed for the IBM PC.
In 1990, VLSI Technology, along with Acorn Computers and
Apple Computerwere the founding investing partners in ARM Ltd. Ericssonof Sweden, after many years of fruitful collaboration, was by 1998 VLSI's largest customer. Within the Wireless Products division, based at Sophia-Antipolisin France, VLSI developed a range of algorithms and circuits for the GSMstandard and for cordless standards such as the European DECTand the Japanese PHS. Stimulated by its growth and success in the wireless handset IC area, Philips Electronics acquired VLSI in June 1999, for about $1 billion. The former components survive to this day as part of Philips spin-off NXP Semiconductors
* [http://www.business.com/directory/electronics_and_semiconductors/semiconductors/vlsi_technology,_inc/profile/ Basic corporate information on VLSI Technology]
* [http://semiconductorforums.com Semiconductor Forum for Professionals and VLSI enthusiasts]
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