SuVolta technology halves gadgets' power requirements

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Silicon Valley start-up SuVolta says it's found a way of cutting the power requirements of chips by half, without affecting performance.

The SuVolta PowerShrink platform works by minimizing the electrical variation of the millions of transistors on a chip, and has been licensed by Fujitsu, which plans to start making chips based on it next year.

Unlike Intel's attempt to deal with the same issue by moving to a 3D design, the SuVolta system doesn't require new fabrication equipment or design infrastructure.

"When you move away from planar, bulk CMOS, you're asking the semiconductor industry to bear a huge cost burden, literally billions of dollars, associated with developing new manufacturing facilities and circuit designs," says the company's CTO, Dr Scott Thompson.

"SuVolta's technology works within existing designs and IP flows, and with existing equipment."

As semiconductors become smaller, power increasingly leaks from components. One reason for this is the way individual transistors need differing voltages to switch them on or off. Decreasing this variation, says SuVolta, means current leakage can be cut by half.

"By providing the industry with a clever and easily manufacturable way to cut power in half or more, SuVolta makes possible the development of portable products with extended time between battery charges," says Dr Bruce McWilliams, president and CEO.

"The SuVolta PowerShrink platform will scale to much smaller feature sizes and bring advantages for future generations of integrated circuit designs."

Fujitsu's teamed with SuVolta to develop the technology at 65nm, and the companies say they've verified 'substantial' reductions in threshold voltage (VT) variation and have confirmed that devices function normally.

"Together, we have proven that the technology provides significantly reduced transistor threshold variability as well as circuit operation at much lower voltages, including SRAM memories operating at below 0.5 volts," says McWilliams.

The company plans to license the process to other manufacturers.