A Visit to Uniquify -- Unique and Impressive

Introduction

"And now for something completely different!" That line from the erstwhile Monty Python TV show often occurs to your writer after a steady diet of public EDA company reports for several consecutive months. OK, maybe not 'completely different'...this is the EDACafe.com Newsletter, after all!  

As an aside, this writer's all-time favorite line from any movie is, "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow," from a very young (19) and beautiful Lauren Bacall (Slim) to 44-year-old Humphrey Bogart (Steve) in the 1944 movie, "To Have and Have Not."

But I digress...

"So how 'bout a private EDA company?" The writer often relies on one Nanette V. Collins for such contacts; she always seems to be connected to many private EDA companies. And she comes through again, "How about Uniquify?" I say, "Sounds good, Weren't they at DAC this year? Let's go meet 'em!"

Tucked away in a low-slung office building on Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara, deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, is Uniquify, a uniquely Silicon Valley enterprise with the goal to create new semiconductor chips "today" faster and more easily than "yesterday." It is building a formidable reputation as a Semiconductor Intellectual Property (IP) and Application Specific Integrated Circuit/System on Chip (ASIC/SoC) design and manufacturing services provider.

Uniquify usually deals with its customers' most complex chips and SoCs. The term you’ll hear from Uniquify to define these new chips is "Super SoCs" or "SSoCs." These complex silicon devices often contain multiple processors, special purpose processing engines, on-chip networks, multiple memories and many different peripheral and I/O functions.

Uniquify has close to 100 mostly technical employees. And most surprising of all, the Company is completely self-funded, bootstrapped from the start, and profitable. Its current office on Scott Boulevard is overcrowded, but a move to a larger and more spacious facility is imminent.

While Uniquify’s bursting at the seams, no one working or visiting there seems to mind. As he was giving his visitors an introductory tour, Bob Smith, Uniquify’s vice president of marketing, said that Uniquify’s corporate culture is definitely one of fun, but that everyone works hard, gets top-notch results and then "plays hard" when the day is over.

Bob Smith VP Marketing

 

Bob Smith was MAGMA’s first vice president of marketing, and he has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Silicon Valley. He is also co-proprietor of Jazz Cellars, a San Francisco winery producing handcrafted, small-lot single varietal, single vineyard wines.

 

Uniquify was founded in 2005 by three chip design experts who came in as a ready-made team, as the trio had worked together for eight years doing multiple hardware designs at several ASIC/SoC companies. According to Bob Smith, Uniquify has grown since inception at a CAGR exceeding 40%. Fiscal Year 2012 was a record year for revenue and profit. Business is great, he said, estimating that the size of the ASIC/SoC/SSoC design, IP, manufacturing services market exceeds $5 billion.

 

Uniquify’s President and CEO is Josh Lee, a co-founder and entrepreneur known for "an easy smile and killer vision."


Josh Lee

Lee attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1992 with Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Another founder is Sam Kim, today serving as vice president and CTO.

Venkat Iyer is Uniquify’s third founder and shares the title of CTO with Sam. Venkat’s focus is on system and logic design, while Sam focuses on the physical design and ASIC/SoC operations.

Sam Kim

 

Venkat Iyer

The founders began offering ASIC and SoC design services business back in 2005 and, with their years of experience, expertise and solid reputations, were busy from the start. About 18 months later, they expanded into developing high-performance IP based on their vision that the use of IP would become pervasive in SoC design. This early vision provided the foundation for what the company now refers to as its “ideas2silicon” platform services. More on that later.

Venkat Iyer (R) is Uniquify’s third founder and shares the role of CTO with Sam Kim (L). Josh Lee (C) is telling Venkat a humorous story about Sam.

 

Moving into IP

Uniquify's move into IP was a good one. A recent study found that the IP market is growing faster than the semiconductor market –– twice as fast, in fact.

Moving into the IP space included the development of a DDR memory controller subsystem IP that’s become one of Uniquify’s chief differentiators. Josh Lee had an idea prior to starting Uniquify on how to improve upon DDR memory controller subsystem IP to solve the fundamental problem of system yield and reliability. (DDR = double data rate --> see list of common abbreviations at the end of the article).

As Bob Smith noted, DDR memory chips need to be fast and small to keep costs down, which means that the onboard timing interface needs to be kept as simple as possible. Of course, the memory suppliers offer timing specs, he said, but the job of controlling the timing interface is left up to the DDR memory control subsystem that is part of the host ASIC or SoC.

“Since no two systems behave exactly alike, the engineering team needs to calibrate the DDR timing interface such that it will accommodate the differences in timing behavior between the host ASIC or SoC, the board and package interface and the DDR memory. This is done by manually working through a number of samples and picking a set of calibration points that are broad enough to cover the expected timing variations. Unfortunately, this manual process can take upwards of several weeks, often impacting the project schedule and still result in low system yield and reliability.”

Further confirming that something needed to change, Uniquify designers had to factor in an interface to every DDR memory controller subsystem chip for each chip design project. Josh Lee’s idea went from inspiration to reality as the Uniquify team innovated an efficient piece of logic for the DDR memory controller IP to measure the timing window and automatically adjust it for each system.

Uniquify’s DDR IP has SCL (self-calibrating logic) and DSCL (dynamic self-calibrating logic) for real-time calibration to accommodate both static (SCL) and dynamic (DSCL) variations in the system operating environment. As a result, the DDR memory subsystem timing calibration can be applied at system power-up and during system operation. This helps enhance device and system yield and reliability, reducing the effects of variation and maintaining DDR memory system performance as temperature and supply voltages fluctuate during system operation. In 2011, it was granted a U.S. patent.

Ubiquify says readers should stay tuned to this topic. As the next generation of DDR4 memory becomes more widely available, Uniquify’s SCL and DSCL DDR memory controller IP may become de facto industry standards as the need to increase system yield and reliability becomes more pronounced.

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