004_EETE

EETE OCTOBER 2012

UNCOMMON MARKET VeriSilicon touts shift to design lite By Junko Yoshida If You thInk chip companies are popping up everywhere in “just labor for hire” company. He takes pride in its ability to provide China, producing a flood of me-too products based on me-too a “turnkey custom solution service” by using a customer’s spec. business models, well, think again. VeriSilicon doesn’t fit the The best example is a 3-D vision processor implemented by using stereotype and defies many preconceived notions about Chinese the algorithm and architecture developed using Prime-Sense and technology companies. VeriSilicon IP, including ZSP, 16-b A/D, PLL, LDO and RAM blocks. Headed by Wayne Dai, one of the best connected executives PrimeSense’ 3-D video sensing device drives Microsoft Kinect, X- in China and Silicon Valley, VeriSilicon is pitching a “design lite” box 360 game console. VeriSilicon also provided PrimeSense with strategy to potential global partners. Just as the wafer-foundry logistical services ranging from packaging to testing and IC manu- business model freed many IC companies from manufacturing facturing. “A new-generation of fabless companies would need to internally designed chips using their own fabs, Dai promotes a be design lite,” Dai asserted. Case in point is Kinect. Microsoft’s “design foundry” business model. The model aims to free chip projected sales goal was 5 million units, but 8 million units were vendors from designing all elements of a customer’s SoC from sold in just 60 days. VeriSilicon worked with SMIC and re-assigned scratch. 50 VeriSilicon employees to work in supply chain management to A new breed of fabless, design-less chip companies may not quickly ramp up the sensor chip supply, said Dai. The outcome sit well with traditional vendors, but the design lite model may was a fabless chip company that started with only $9 million. Then nevertheless be just what the doctor ordered for an industry VeriSilicon pitched in to help Microsoft meet unexpected consumer intransition. In essence, VeriSilicon offers an antidote to the costly demand for Kinect. custom consumer SoC business. The nature of the high risk, VeriSilicon’s strengths lay in its foundry neutrality (VeriSilicon low margin custom SoC business has brought companies like works with SMIC, IBM, Grace Semiconductor, Taiwan Semicon- Renesas Electronics to its knees. Renesas has little choice but ductor Manufacturing Co. and Globalfoundries); in its speedy de- to leave the audio visual/multimedia sector of the SoC business. sign work (Dai claims that the company tapes out one chip a week Noting the tremendous pressure from competitors in Taiwan and and can ramp up one product a month); and in its turnkey service Korea, VeriSilicon’s Dai said: “It’s time for Japan to work with the for custom silicon solutions. It also provides a SoC/SiP platform- Chinese.” While its design foundry approach mirrors eSilicon and based IP portfolio. OpenSilicon, VeriSilicon is counting on an army of talented, young Ever since it acquired ZSP division from LSI Logic in 2006, Chinese engineers to flesh out the model. In a recent interview, Dai VeriSilicon has leveraged an embedded DSP core to offer single- claimed that VeriSilicon has already become “the most geographi- core HD audio solutions and a suite of certified HD audio software. cally diversified design foundry.” Dai claims that more than 50 percent of standalone Blu-ray players Based both in the U.S. and China, VeriSilicon, employs a total of are ZSP-based. VeriSilicon’s SoC platforms range from multimedia 380 people, 250 of them working in a spacious, sun-filled Shang- (HD audio) to wireless (3G/4G/WiMax/LTE/TD-LTE) to speech. hai office. Its other claim to fame is Hantro Video IP. The Finnish video Born in Shanghai, Dai immigrated with his family to Califor- hardware manufacturer of video for mobile devices is now a part nia. His siblings include sister Weili Dai, who cofounded Marvell of Google, which selected VeriSilicon to be a strategic partner Technology, and brother Wei-Jin Dai, president and CEO of Vivante for Hantro IP. VeriSilicon now finds itself in a position to integrate, Corp., a designer of GPU technology for the mobile device and customize and support Hantro Video IP for both chip customers home entertainment markets. and systems companies through IP licensing or turnkey service, Wayne Dai was also a professor of computer engineering at the said Dai. Under the Google partnership, VeriSilicon has already University of California at Santa Cruz, so nurturing young engineers licensed Hantro Video IP to 25 semiconductor companies includ- comes naturally. “Chinese engineers may be green,” Dai said, ing several top chip makers. Dai’s ambition for VeriSilicon doesn’t “but given the best design flows and tools, their energy compen- stop at multimedia apps-centric SoC/SiP platforms. It is diversify- sates for their inexperience.” More than 60 percent of VeriSilicon’s ing into new areas ranging from RF-related platforms for a LED Chinese engineers have an MS degree or above. They’re armed lamp controller SoC to mixed signal platforms for power line with an average of seven years of working experience. The major- communication and network over coaxial cable. SoCs for apps like ity graduated from one of China’s top 10 universities. To maintain smart sensors and meters are also being targeted. Dai, who knows diversity in its workplace, Dai said VeriSilicon’s engineers come China and Silicon Valley inside out, strives to build his company from throughout China. “Less than 20 percent of our mainland em- by combining the best of both worlds. Hence, VeriSilicon is by ployees are originally from Shanghai,” Dai explained. VeriSilicon’s no means your typical China fabless vendor, nor is it a “one trick customer list is also diversified, including top chip companies pony” but rather a business built to “be scalable with its flexible from Silicon Valley, Asia and Europe along with system OEMs with turnkey business model,” Dai said. While building a large IP port- global brands and startups in China and elsewhere. Its notable folio, the company also hopes to make its business “repeatable” designs include: Microsoft Kinect 3-D video sensing device (based based on application-centric SoC platforms, he added. VeriSilicon on the algorithm developed by Israeli company PrimeSense); has already gone through five rounds of funding and could go MEMS 3-axis accelerometer sensor used by Bosch Sensortec; public in 2013. Nowhere near as big as Marvell Semiconductor, DTV panel processor SoC for a Japanese flat panel TV company; co-founded by Dai’s sister, Weili, Wayne Dai’s ambitions remain touch screen SoC for a Taiwan-based supplier; an Ethernet switch big. For example, VeriSilicon’s Shanghai office recreates the huge for a Chinese customer; and an apps processor SoC for a Tier One aquarium in Marvell’s spacious Santa Clara lobby. The difference is U.S. fabless company. that VeriSilicon’s aquarium consists of four large LCD panels, and Dai stressed that VeriSilicon is neither “just an IP provider” nor all the tropical fishes are rendered virtually. 4 Electronic Engineering Times Europe October 2012 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE OCTOBER 2012
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