Campus company has the power to keep Moore’s Law on track

10 Sep 2008

One of Europe’s hottest young tech start-ups has developed a new chip technology that will allow the hard-pressed computer industry to reduce power consumption on chipsets and stay in line with the industry-defining Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law – which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double every 24 months – has presented the technology industry with something of a challenge. The chip industry is pursuing 45-nanometer processes and the amount of currents on chips are increasing.

As a result, Moore’s Law and energy efficiency in computers are on a bit of a collision course.

However, a young Limerick-headquartered technology company backed by an A-list of venture capital firms, including Intel Capital, has derived a new chip that has allowed manufacturers to achieve energy efficiency gains of up to 30pc along with a 50pc increase in transient response.

Powervation, which also has offices in California, China and Cork and employs 30 people worldwide, grew out of the Circuits and Systems Research Centre at the University of Limerick and benefited from the Enterprise Ireland-backed Power Electronics Industry Group.

The company was formed in 2006 and last year closed a US$10m investment from a number of major Silicon Valley investment firms, including Intel Capital, the Venture Tech Alliance and SEP, Europe’s largest semiconductor fund.

Founder and chief executive, Antoin Russell, told that in the year ahead the company will be creating 10 jobs as it increases its customers base, which includes some of the world’s largest technology firms in the areas of consumer electronics, communications and computers.

“Basically our chipset resides inside any high-power digital system and controls the amount of power that is delivered to a chip. Anyone manufacturing chipsets for notebooks, servers in data centres and telecoms equipment are united in the aim to reduce power consumption.

“The main things driving applications for our technologies are the environmental requirement to drive down energy consumption but also Moore’s Law.

“The way the geometries are going for these 45nm chips, the supply voltage for chips are actually increasing, which is extremely challenging. But at the same time, Moore’s Law is driving the size of chips lower and lower so the industry is on something of a collision course,” Russell said.

Powervation’s new chip has a tiny footprint and will allow manufacturers to achieve a 65pc reduction in overall system components compared with analogue alternatives.

The new chip will be available to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the first quarter of 2009.

The technology will hit the market at a time of surging demand for digital power conversion technologies.

A recent statement by digital power market research firm Darnell Group noted: “The portion of the power supply market that will employ some form of digital loop control is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 45pc for the next five years. By 2013, the digital power converter market is projected to exceed 1.4billion units.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years