Processor startup brings multitasking technology to the mobile handset world with a little help from Siemens and friends

June 30, 2003

2 Min Read
Sandbridge Draws $22.5M

Startup Sandbridge Technologies Inc., which designs digital signal processors (DSPs) announced today that Siemens Venture Capital (SVC) has invested in the company, bringing the total funding raised in its second round to $22.5 million.

Sandbridge claims that its chips will enable manufacturers to develop handsets that can handle multiple networking types on a single chip. This would allow them -- for instance – to develop devices that support voice over IP for wireless LAN as well as standard cellular functionality (see Motorola Plots WLAN VOIP Move and Is 802.11 Ready for VOIP?).The company, which was formed in March 2001 with three of the four founders coming from IBM Corp.'s (NYSE: IBM) T.J Watson research facility, has so far scored $36.5 million in funding. Other investors include Atlas Venture, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Infineon Ventures.

The company says it's "hyper threading" -- a technology more commonly used on desktop computers -- that gives its Sandblaster chips the processing power to handle different networking techniques. Hyper threading, which has been popularized by Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) in the desktop world, enables a single chip to process two or more tasks (threads) simultaneously. It does this by fooling the system into believing that is actually dealing with two or more processors. These "virtual" processors crunch code by using sectors of chip that are not being used by the processor and sharing common tasks between themselves. The Sandblaster chips can support up to eight threads per core processor.

Hyper threading is not a technique that is typically used in the mobile world, because the multitasking nature of the technology means that it uses more power than standard designs. "Our trick is how we make it energy-efficient," comments David Malik, VP of marketing for Sandbridge. Malik, who says the company holds around 30 patents on the technology, is a little bit cagey about how the trick works. However, he explains that one of the ways that Sandbridge lowers the power requirements of the system is by switching threads on and off as required. "Most of the time the CPU is not running."

Will Strauss, analyst at Forward Concepts Co. is impressed with the technology. "As we come out of the telecom winter -- hopefully this year -- there could be a market for this stuff," he says.

However, there is already a lot of competition in the mobile DSP market from big guns like Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN). Strauss thinks that Sandbridge's "hot technology" could make them a potential acquisition target for a larger company. He sees IBM as a potential suitor. "IBM really needs a DSP in its core portfolio," he notes.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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