The microprocessor industry may be in a slump, but it remains a cyclical industry. And venture capital (VC) keeps chasing chip technology’s next big thing. The flavour of last month was Bluetooth chipsets, organic thin-film microprocessors and silicon-on-insulator wafers.
One of the biggest tranches of VC funding in the European high-tech industry in recent weeks went to Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), a UK-based maker of Bluetooth chipsets. It received $19 million (EU19.3m) from a number of backers including Lloyds TSB Development Capital and Scottish Equity Partners, bringing its total funding to more than $80 million (EU81.5m).
CSR has developed a single-chip set for the Bluetooth short-range wireless networking protocol, which it sells to manufacturers of embedded devices, including systems giant Hewlett-Packard. The company began shipping its products in March 2000, ahead of its competitors, and observers say it has successfully maintained that lead. CSR claims it has already shipped over five million of its microprocessors.
A group of VC firms – including Intel Capital – pumped an undisclosed sum into Israel-based Nanolayers, a supplier of organic thin-film microprocessor technology. The company’s molecular chemical solution is seen as compelling because it helps manufacturers to build thinner, more durable layers of a microprocessor than those that use silicon-based layers. Initially, the technology will be used for microprocessor integrated circuits and flat-panel displays, where the pixels on a screen are controlled by layers inside thin film transistors. The company claims its technology is up to 80% cheaper than conventional materials.
Meanwhile, French silicon-on-insulator (SOI) wafer manufacturer Silicon on Insulator Systems and Integrated Circuits (Soisic) said last month that it was poised to complete a second-round of funding worth about EU10 million. No further details were disclosed. The company is taking a different approach to improving the efficiency of microprocessor manufacturing. SOI technology is a technique that involves coating a thin layer of silicon on top of an insulating material, such as silicon oxide or glass. Soisic is betting its future on the notion that SOI will replace traditional silicon-based microprocessor production methods.