Reconfigurable Chips

San Jose Mercury News writes:

The promise is that one configurable chip can do the jobs of several standard chips. That could eventually lead to cheaper, smaller and vastly more powerful electronics devices for consumers and businesses.

But so far, companies such as Chameleon Systems, Adaptive Silicon and BOPS have failed in the quest to bring these complex configurable chips to market. Some companies have been purchased, such as MorphICs of Campbell, which was acquired by Infineon Technologies in March 2003. A few others are struggling.

Analysts said that while these failures have put a damper on the configurable concept, they are more confident about a new batch of emerging start-ups, including Stretch. Larger companies also are looking at configurable technology. Among them is Intel, whose fastest chips also generate excessive heat. Configurable chips get more work done at slower speeds and thus do not run as hot.

“With a second wave of companies I am a little more optimistic,” said Jim Turley, president of Silicon Insider, a consulting firm in Pacific Grove. “I think they have addressed the problems such as the scariness and the complexity.”

A configurable-chip company typically sells software designs that physically change part of a chip’s circuitry design much like an Etch-a-Sketch picture can be erased and quickly redrawn. But the tools that the chip developer gives to potential customers are not always that easy to use.

Chips developed by these companies can be reprogrammed remotely. For instance, the developer of a cellular base station can make changes to the base station by sending commands through a network.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.