In early October Kilopass Technology Inc. completed its second round of venture capital funding for $8.8 million. The firm was founded in 2001 with the mission to become the industry leader in embedded non-volatile memory technology (NVM) a niche within memory market. According to a report by BCC (Business Communications Company) NVM market is estimated to be $17.4 billion in 2005 with a projected average annual growth rate of 32% though 2010. Flash memory accounts for almost 90% of the total NVM market. EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) and EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) negative growth. The emergence of advance memory technologies such as MRAM, FRAM and OUM are expected to gradually take away some share of total volatile memory.
I had an opportunity to discuss Kilopass with Charles Ng, Vice-President of Worldwide Sales & Marketing. Mr. Ng has more than 22 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. Prior to joining Kilopass, he held senior management and executive-level positions with Cadence, Compass Design Automation, and VLSI Technology Inc. He was the key contributor in establishing and expanding the business for these companies in North America, Japan, and Asia Pacific. He graduated from California Institute of Technology with a MS in Computer Science and a BS in Computer Engineering and an MS in Computer Science, and he also holds a MBA from UC at Berkeley.
Were you a founder or an early employee at Kilopass?
One of the very early employees.
Why did you leave Cadence, an industry leader, to work for this startup?
Opportunity! Good technology. Good startup.
What business is Kilopass in?
Kilopass is an IP Supplier of field programmable memory. You can program the memory content. It is an IP embedded in a SoC. Non-volatile memory which means that data content is kept after the power is off. Our claim to fame is that we require only standard logic CMOS process without any additional processing at all. Volatile memory requires a complicated process which is very expensive to develop and to use.
We can avoid that cost using standard CMOS process technology. Our technology is very cost effective because of standard CMOS logic. It's available everywhere and can be found in many foundries. Our technology supports 90 nm and 65 nm in the future much easier than flash memory. With flash memory it is much more difficult. They do not scale very well into advanced processes.
We can be very high density. We are shipping up to 1 Mbit. Other solutions that can provide similar capabilities can only provide about 1 Kbits or so. Our solution can go up to 1 Mbit, while this may not seem very high, it is high relatively speaking.
It is very secure which means that it is very difficult for anyone to break into the memory, to figure out the memory content. It prevents reverse engineering and protects memory content.
Editor: The flash types of non-volatile memory are limited in their ability to store charge due to the fact that as the logic oxides get thinner, direct tunneling occurs and the charge tunnels off. This occurs between 80 and 85 Angstrom for the thickness of the tunnel oxide required to hold the charge. Logic CMOS gate oxides are much thinner, currently in the range of 30 Angstroms. Moreover, the lower voltage required to achieve tunneling limits the pacing between storage elements (transistors).
Tell me a little about Kilopass Technology.
We started in 2001. We are headquartered in Silicon Valley. We are funded by US Venture Partners (USVP) our lead VC followed by BuleRun Ventures who used to be called Nokia Venture Partners and by InveStar Captial who is related to TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) and iGlobe Partners. Our current headcount is around 35 people in the US. We also have an outsourced location and they have about 35 people also. So altogether we have about 70 people. We have 14 patents granted with many more pending.
Where is that outsourced location?
That's in mainland China!
What is the Kilopass' annual revenue?
A few million dollars!
How many customers does Kilopass have?
About 30 customers!
What process nodes do you support?
The memory module is currently available in 0.18-micron, 0.15-micron and 0.13-micron. We have working silicon and passed 1,000 hours of burn-in testing. This is a very rigorous test for our IP. We just had a press release with TSMC announcing that they have certified XPM on their 0.18-micron CMOS logic process as part of their certification program. We are very proud that we can achieve that. We are shipping to customers at process nodes 0.18-micron to 0.13-micron.
What are the key features of the technology?
It is a new type of field programmable non-volatile memory. We are the only using standard CMOS, which is very low cost. It is very scalable. It can be high density up to 64 megabits. Theoretically it can go higher to .5 Gbits or so. But today we are shipping up to 1Mbit. We can offer you tens of megabits. It is not a limitation of the technology. It is more a limitation of engineering resources. If we were to put enough engineering resources into it, we could develop much larger memory blocks. It's a very secure memory that prevents anyone from trying to reverse engineer. The read voltage is very standard and programming and standby currents are very low. Very good reliability and data retention. That's very important in non-volatile memory.
What does XPM stand for?
eXtra Permanent Memory
High density layout. Each memory cell takes up less than 1½ T, minimum size transistor. It has very low programmable current which makes it ideal for field programming; 100 ìA/bit programming current and read current around 15 ìA/bit. You can program anywhere: on the production floor, inside a package, or inside a printed circuit board system. It is one time programmable on the device level but actually it is a limited time programmable solution on a system level due to multiple sectors. If you need only 1,000 bits of memory, you can put in slightly larger memory, say 8,000 bits. With 8,000 bits, you now have 8 different sectors. You can program 8 times the memory content of 1,000 bits. Because the die size difference between 1,000 bits and 8,000 bits is very small, the penalty is very small. With this kind of approach, you can have a limited time, a few times programmability.
There is very good data retention - over 20 years. It is very reliable for mission critical applications. Very secure from any reverse engineering.
What are some of main applications for XPM?
One application is firmware storage. Anytime you have an embedded MCU (Microcontroller Unit) like an AD51 or ARM processor, you need to store the firmware somewhere. If the firmware needs to be programmable, if you need to change it often or if you have many different versions, then you want to have the flexibility to program it in different ways. Today people usually put that firmware into a separate chip, an off chip flash chip that is programmable. You would download that firmware during boot up time into the SRAM block inside your SoC chip and then the MCU would access the memory content from the SRAM. But this two chip solution can be transformed into a single chip solution with XPM. This is because XPM is non-volatile, it is field programmable and it only requires CMOS so that you can easily integrate it into you SoC chip. With this approach you eliminate the external flash chip with a single chip solution. XPM is much smaller in die size than SRAM. Usually a smaller amount of SRAM is needed but that depends on the overall design. So the whole die size shrinks down a lot. It provides instant boot up because there is no more downloading of the firmware during boot up. It is very secure storage because now the firmware is inside the SoC chip. It's not outside. Even when people try reverse engineering, peeling the layers off one layer by one layer, it is still very difficult to detect the memory content using a microscope or thermal emission equipment. Since it is a single chip solution, it reduces the overall form factor. That's one application.