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Jen-Tai Hsu Joins Kilopass and Looks to the Future of Memories

Jen-Tai Hsu Joins Kilopass and Looks to the Future of Memories
by Paul McLellan on 08-18-2015 at 7:00 am

 Kilopass has a new VP of engineering, Jen-Tai Hsu. I sat down with him last week to find out where he came from and where he and Kilopass are going.

He grew up in Taiwan and went to National Taiwan University where he studied electrical engineering. Then he came to the US and went to Case Western Reserve University to get a masters degree, studying MEMS/Silicon sensors, and finally to UCLA for a PhD in EE device physics. That is enough education for anyone, so time for a real job.

He started working at National Semiconductor as a process integration engineer on flash memory for a couple of years. Then he went to Intel where he ended up staying for 12 years. He continued to work on flash memory before moving into product engineering. Intel was the first company getting two bits into a cell using 4 different voltage levels technology (Multi-Level Cell, or MLC) with project code name Voyager. After a couple of years he moved to what we would today call an IP group working on the various forms of SERDES needed for the PC business: USB, PCIe, SATA and so on.

I think that it was at VLSI Technology where the first PC chipset was developed. We had IP blocks, that we called megacells, for all the chips that made up the rest of the motherboard beyond the processor and memory. Over a weeked a group threw together a chipset and it looked feasible. This became a huge business for VLSI over the next years. Intel bundled our chipset, called Topcat, with their processor, I forget whether they stamped Intel logos on them. But we always knew that eventually it would be Intel’s business since they knew all about next generation processors ahead of anyone else, by definition. Anyway, that became true and Jen-Tai spent 9 years working on chipsets at Intel until, in 2008, he left to join GUC.

 GUC (Global Unichip Corporation) is a subsidiary of TSMC that does designs for customers and then uses TSMC as a foundry to manufacture them. As the ASIC business changed from being all about gates to being about IP too, every design services company needed access to IP, preferably that they had developed in-house to give them some differentiation from all the other design services companies. Often this IP is a family of SERDES interfaces since they are needed for a huge number of designs and they are beyond the abilities of many design teams to do themselves. The way GUC was organized the job was still very technical since Jen-Tai was both the senior director of the group and also owned the top level design. GUC had been using Synopsys’s IP but once the internal development was successful they switched to their using their internally developed IP. This enabled them to win heavyweight contracts from major networking manufacturers, major telecoms companies and more. IP revenue ramped up from nothing to tens of millions.

The next step was to Pericom as VP engineering doing analog intensive design. Low cost high margin chips competing with the usual suspects: NXP, TI, Maxim, IDT. They had a number of different design centers all with their own methodology, which he unified so everything was much easier to integrate.

Finally, to where we are today, he joined Kilopass. He loves going to the fundamentals of technology and memories are the cutting edge of bringing process technology to life as products.

Kilopass are known for one-time-programmable (OTP) memories, both small registers used to hold encryption keys or capture which redundant DRAM columns should be disabled, and also larger memories to hold code. Their current architecture has a read access time of around 30-40ns, the next generation should be below 20ns and consume just 1/10 of the power. This is obviously perfect for IoT type designs that need to get power as low as possible.

Kilopass is also working on new memory technology for the SRAM/DRAM type market. So not one-time-programmable. However, they haven’t announced details yet so you’ll have to wait until the new year to unwrap that particular present.

The press release announcing Jen-Tai’s appointment is here.