SAN JOSE--STMicroelectronics and Hitachi Ltd. today (April 3) announced plans to form an independent company to develop and license RISC microprocessor cores, based on the SuperH architecture.
The new San Jose company, called SuperH Inc., is an extension of an ongoing alliance between the two companies, which have been working on compatible RISC processor chips for a range of 32- and 64-bit applications. Last fall, STMicroelectronics and Hitachi extended their alliance to include a new 64-bit SuperH core for multimedia and Internet applications in consumer products (see Oct. 11 story).
SuperH will initially employ about 100 workers, most of whom will be transferred from Hitachi and ST. The company will be headquartered in San Jose, with operations in Bristol, England, and Tokyo.
The move to set up a new SuperH company cores comes one day after Toshiba Corp. announced it would spin off its San Jose microprocessor engineering operation as a new company, called ArTile Microsystems Inc. (see April 2 story). The new company will focus on using Toshiba's 64-bit TX79 media processor, but it does not plan to license out the core to other parties.
But Hitachi and ST Microelectronics are taking a different tack The jointly owned SuperH company will license RISC cores on the open market. The companies said they also plan to make an initial public offering of SuperH shares within two or three years.
Hitachi created the SH family of processors and developed its first four major iterations, but has worked with ST since 1997, when the companies agreed to share a common high-end microprocessor road map. They jointly developed the 32-bit SH4 RISC processor core, and began development of the SH5 architecture, which will now be completed by SuperH.
SuperH's initial product will be the SH4 core. Earlier SH ver sions will not be part of the spin-off agreement. Jean-Marie Rolland, R&D director for microcore development at STMicroelectronics and chief operating officer of SuperH Inc., said the developers have working silicon of the SH5, which should be available soon, he said. SuperH will also develop and release SH6 and the SH7 product lines in the coming years. Toshimasa Kihara, formerly general manager of microcomputer and ASIC products at Hitachi, will be chief executive officer of SuperH.
ST and Hitachi are contributing the necessary intellectual property rights, patents and financial assets to allow SuperH to start its operations, though details of the value of their investments were not disclosed. Hitachi has a slight majority of the initial ownership of SuperH, although control is shared equally between Hitachi and ST, each of which will provide four board members.
SuperH will not open up the processor instruction set, but will make the cores available in a "soft core" format, either directly to cust omers or through relationships with foundries. Those foundry deals are currently under negotiation. "This deal is much more important than simply a source of revenue," Rolland said. "We want the SH microarchitecture to become a de facto industry standard, and to become widely used throughout the market. That is the number one goal of this agreement."
--Reporting for this story provided by EE Times, a sister publication of Semiconductor Business News.