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Clockless Cortex-M3 Cuts Power

April 10, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

For decades, processor architects have been trying to beat the clock—the steady crystal heartbeat that regulates the synchronous logic in conventional circuits. Lower power is the reward of clockless asynchronous logic, but design complexities are the perennial obstacles. The latest company to tackle the challenge is Eta Compute, a Southern California startup.

Its first product is EtaCore: an asynchronous implementation of Arm’s Cortex-M3 that other companies can license for chip designs. In addition, the startup will soon announce its own EtaCore-based microcontrollers for IoT edge applications, plus some unusual neural-network software for them. It’s an ambitious business plan—intellectual-property (IP) vendor, MCU supplier, AI-software provider—but the young company is exploring multiple strategies that intersect.

Founded in 2015, Eta Compute employs about 25 people and recently raised $8 million in Series A funding from Walden International and Acorn Pacific Ventures. It boasts a management team with deep industry experience. CEO Gopal Raghavan was a cofounder and CTO of Inphi and previously worked at Cadence and Intel; CTO Narayan Srinivasa was an Intel chief scientist; board member Lip-Bu Tan is the chairman of Walden International and CEO of Cadence.

Right now, the company is focusing on the asynchronous-logic EtaCore, which can run the same software as any other Cortex-M3 while operating at subthreshold voltages to reduce power. According to Eta, the CPU can operate at 0.2V when fabricated in TSMC’s 55nm ULP process. At a still-low 0.9V, it can cruise at 48MHz while consuming less than 1mW.

Eta has also developed some low-power analog peripherals and components, including A/D and D/A converters. EtaCore, the peripheral IP, and the AI software are available now; the company’s EtaCore MCUs will debut later this year.

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