The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

Dham: Beating a New Path

Karthik Sundaram
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Karthik Sundaram
CAESAR, VINOD DHAM’S GOLDEN-HAIRED Labrador, is given to loping around Dham’s hilltop estates in Fremont, CA. He wears a collar with an embedded chip, and you wonder if it is to stop him from crossing over the estate boundaries. “No,” says Dham. “It is his key to the house. The trapdoor has a detector in it, which reads the chip and opens up to let Caesar in. Other vandal animals can’t come in.” What else would you expect of this legendary chip man? “Oh! There are many other such smart things around here,” laughs Dham. “I love the intelligence in chips. One day, they will pervade our lives, in ways we haven’t yet seen or imagined.”

Dham has spent the last three decades in the semiconductor industry, and needs no introduction. Following successful stints at Intel and AMD, he went on to head a startup, Silicon Spice, where, as he says, “the technology excited me.” After a quiescence that followed the acquisition of Silicon Spice by Broadcom, Dham is now back in the game. An equal partner with Tushar Dave in a newly founded venture firm, NewPath Ventures, Dham and Dave are building shell companies in the U.S., that would source the majority of its development work from India, and use the Far East Asian foundries to establish design in silicon. “The U.S. is the market, India has the talent, and Asia has sufficient economic capacity. Why not marry all three?” asks Dham.

siliconindia speaks to the “father of the Pentium” on some key issues.

Current semiconductor process technologies in vogue are CMOS and Gallium Arsenide. Next generation technologies being talked about are SiGe, SOI, Copper, low-k dielectrics and compound semiconductors. How are these technologies going to influence the semiconductor industry from a chip design perspective? How will they bring changes from a customer and supplier perspective? Will any of these become mainstream in the next 10 years?

I see silicon still being the dominant technology for the foreseeable future. The process technologies that you mention are still only part of the entire technology integration, with specific uses like decreasing resistance, leakage control, and so on. The technology has traditionally been described by the underlying substrate. This substrate has, for long, been silicon, simply because silicon dioxide is by nature the stablest of materials, which has led to economically favorable process technologies. You also have to contend with the lack of friendliness in the other substrates when it comes to process, and these substrates thus have never moved beyond niche uses. From a mainstream point of view, I think silicon will be the leader for some time to come. In fact, one of my first projects in the U.S., back in 1977, was to develop silicon germanium epitaxial layers, and the technology has been around for a long time. The very fact that it hasn’t seen wider mainstream application in more than two decades speaks for its limited success.

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