Peregrine attempts to bring commercial success to bear on military market

Experts at Peregrine Semiconductor, having built a successful commercial semiconductor business, are extending their focus toward the military market with what they claim are affordable low-power and high-performance devices.

Nov 1st, 2000

By John McHale

SAN DIEGO — Experts at Peregrine Semiconductor, having built a successful commercial semiconductor business, are extending their focus toward the military market with what they claim are affordable low-power and high-performance devices.

It is not a traditional commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) approach, but rather a value-added one, explains Ron Reedy, chief technical officer and original founder of Peregrine in San Diego.

Peregrine officials do not require their customers to pay for the original design of the wafer, only for special packaging or any upscreening they may request. Company engineers design their wafers for the commercial market and amortize their development costs over large-volume sales.

Peregrine's commercial devices come in plastic packaging and have a temperature range of -40 to 80 degrees Celsius. Designers can place them in ceramic packaging and upscreen them to the military temperature range of -55 to 125 C for more demanding applications, company officials say.

COTS means commercial or plastic packaging; anything else is value-added, Reedy says.

Buying a wafer from Peregrine is similar to buying a car, Reedy says. You may go to your local Ford dealership and buy a Taurus off the lot, but if you want a Taurus that is painted in camouflage and can drive across the Saudi desert you may have to pay a little extra, he explains.

Many semiconductor companies no longer cater to military requirements because their volumes of military sales were too low to justify the costs of maintaining special manufacturing lines. Yet Peregrine's large volume of commercial devices enables the company to focus on the military marketplace with minimum overhead costs, Reedy explains.

Peregrine sells devices to commercial satellite designers, and company officials say these devices would be attractive to military customers. These devices include two new families of phase-locked loop (PLL) devices: the PE9600 and PE9700.

These devices feature greater than 10 dB in phase noise improvement and one-tenth the power consumption of competitive devices, Peregrine officials claim. Peregrine officials also announced that the PLL circuit core used in the new devices is available as a building block for customer-defined devices.

The PE9600 devices operate at frequencies as high as 2.2 GHz and combine with an external prescaler to generate the local oscillator (LO) signals necessary for satellite communications transceivers.

The prescaler typically divides the required LO signal frequency down to 1.4 GHz, placing it within the operating frequency of the PE9600 low-phase-noise PLL. The PE9700 devices operate at frequencies as high as 3.0 GHz, and are for new designs. They eliminate the external prescaler function and reduce the parts count and cost of a frequency synthesizer board, Peregrine officials say.

The chips are fabricated in Peregrine's patented UTSi (Ultra-Thin Silicon) CMOS process technology, which uses a synthetic sapphire substrate that is a pure insulator, rather than semiconductor.

"The UTSi process is presently being processed at Peregrine's fab partner in Japan," says Chuck Tabbert, director of space and defense marketing at Peregrine, "and will soon be installed in Peregrine's newly acquired 6-inch fabrication facility in Sydney, Australia."

Production from this new fab will be available this summer. Tabbert plans to scale down the UTSi process technology to 0.25 microns, which company officials say they expect to be available for customer designs by fall of 2001.

Peregrine engineers take the original silicon on sapphire (SOS) substrate, thin it, and remove the crystalline properties that cause it to have high yields, Reedy explains. SOS is a rad-hard substrate but has many yield problems that have made it expensive, Tabbert continues. The thin film enables small and fast transistors, Reedy claims.

Contrary to prior skepticism the devices also retain the original SOS inherent radiation resistance, Reedy claims. Peregrine devices using the UTSi process have a yield rate of 95 percent, he adds.

As a result, they provide strong radio frequency performance, and easily surpass the rad-hard requirements for reliable operation in commercial satellites, Peregrine officials claim. The PLL's are immune to single-event latch-up (SEL), offer total-dose radiation tolerance of 100 kilorads, and have single-event upset (SEU) of less than 10-9 errors per bit/day, or about one upset per thousand devices every 15 years, Reedy says.

Peregrine officials also offer a rad-hard 0.5-micron cell library for customer ASIC designs. The designs use the company's UTSi process. The cell library offers customers high-speed and low power consumption of UTSi technology for a broad range of space applications with the capability to integrate more than 750,000 gates of CMOS SOS random logic (more than 1 million equivalent gates with embedded macros), Peregrine officials say.

"There is an urgent need for an advanced rad hard process technology that system designers can rely on to develop next generations of advanced signal processing and other system control functions," Tabbert says. "Our focused development activity in UTSi, including Radio Frequency (RF) synthesizer and transceiver blocks, A-D converters, embedded EEPROM, SRAM, or ROM will continue to enhance the capability of the cell library in the near future."

Peregrine does not produce megarad devices due to export restrictions but is negotiating with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Commerce to export them from Australia, Reedy says.

For more information on Peregrine Semiconductor contact Chuck Tabbert by phone at 321-308-0323, by fax at 321-308-0324, by mail at 1900 South Harbor City Blvd., Suite 339, Melbourne, Fla. 32901, by e-mail at ctabbert@peregrine-semi.com, or on the World Wide Web at http: www.peregrine-semi.com.

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