If there was a big buzz about anything at APEC, it was about TI's brilliant move in snapping up the Bethlem, Penn. company and its portfolio of IP related to extremely high-performance CMOS FETs. On the second day of APEC 2009, I had an opportunity to talk to Ciclon Semiconductor founder Mark Granahan, along with Texas Instruments’ senior power-management VP, Steve Anderson about TI's acquisition of Ciclon.
Ciclon was a Bell Labs spin-off, and Granahan and his associates were allowed to acquire the Bell RF LDMOS patents and run with them. Ciclon applied the epitaxial high frequency IP to higher current-density power MOSFETs that could be fabricated on plain-vanilla, 0.35-micron CMOS foundry lines.
Clearly pleased with the acquisition, Anderson said that TI plans to use the Ciclon “NexFet” technology across a wide range of power products. He mentioned that by way of experiment, TI dropped Ciclon’s current products into a number of TI reference designs and with absolutely no optimizations the FETs performed “five percent better than the best FETs we ever tested.”
Granahan pointed out that in terms of figure-of-merit, his P-channel switches were as good as anybody else's best N-channel devices. Futhermore, when adopted, they could provide efficiency gains in topologies that used P-channels for the high-side switch.
I asked Granahan to compare his technology to other fabless companies that offer MOSFET technology produced on ordinary foundry lines. He said that to his knowledge, all of those competitors use a trenchFET technology, which in his opinion had reached a point of diminishing returns performance-wise, while LDMOS' best days are still to come. Granahan said that Ciclon had made its reputation on its first-generation products, and that second-generation prototyping is in the works now, and that third-gen is “in the lab.”
In other news at TI, on Tuesday the company announced three new hot-swap managers that help for voltage rails between 3 and 20 V and an operating current of up to 5 A. That's more than twice the current throughput of existing hot-swap managers with integrated FETs in the same voltage range. The new parts also require fewer external components than other hot-swap controllers. Each device can operate across the entire operating voltage range with only the timing capacitor and resistor-set current thresholds. Click here to watch a video from APEC detailing the technology.