One of the true giants in the tech industry is Intel. Despite the ascendance of their rival, ARM, in the mobile sector, Intel is unmatched in processor and molecular-level computing R&D. They are years ahead of others in the business and likely will be for some time. But that doesn’t mean that an occasional upstart can’t stand up to them in a small but significant way.
SuVolta, a new company based in Los Gatos and only in the public eye for six months, has created an alternative to a certain Intel chip-making technique that could improve the system-on-a-chip production and significantly decrease power consumption. Their partner, Fujitsu, has just demonstrated the technology in a super-low-voltage SRAM chip, showing that the technique is very far from vaporware.
It’s always extraordinary when a small company (SuVolta has around 50 employees) can take on a multi-billion dollar one, even more so when the larger company maintains its dominance by its immense spending on research staff and facilities. But SuVolta is lucky in the respect that their invention does not require such a high level of investment. Or not lucky, rather, but very shrewd.
Their tech, in brief, is a new technique for producing transistors called Deeply Depleted Channel, and it’s a different material stacking method that allows for an even lower voltage to be used to reliably power the gate. In Fujistu’s demonstration, a small SRAM cell that would normally take 1V to power successfully ran with just 0.425V. Power savings of over 50% on such a low level are hugely significant.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the DDC method of producing transistors is compatible with existing chip-creation infrastructures and designs. This means that SoC manufacturers won’t have to spend billions refitting their factories to create bigger dies or accommodate smaller transistor sizes; after all, reliably producing structures 25 nanometers across is no easy matter, and the machinery necessary to do it is incredibly expensive. By allowing for this huge improvement in power consumption rates but minimizing the cost of deployment, SuVolta is saving companies billions and nullifying to some extent some of the billions spent by Intel.
DDC only goes so far, but it’s an extremely valuable and powerful asset for a young and small company like SuVolta to have. They’ve branded it Powershrink, but there’s no indication of when products built on the technique will hit the market.