Asked why, Dr Steve Woo, a Rambus 'Distinguished Inventor' who is vice president of enterprise solutions technology, tells me: “We were looking to diversify. We have a solid business in memory and interfaces. We looked at other businesses. We wanted businesses with a similar licensing model and a big growing market.”
Having identified the LED market as a ripe target for diversification, Rambus bought an LED company called Global Lighting Technology.
Now Rambus has its LED light-bulbs made by a contract manufacturer and sells the bulbs through an independent retailing organisation. Prices are competitive with the market – under $20.
The 23 year-old company has mellowed into middle age with a customer-centric approach.
“We’re taking existing technologies and applying them to new standards and doing things to make them better with faster data rates and lower power e.g. with LPDDR3 we can push data rates from 2.1Gbps to 3.2Gbps or, at the same speed, we can reduce power by 30%,” says Woo. Another example is reducing the on-off switching time on SOC macro blocks to 5-10ns.
“Our interface technologies are helping people build SOCs which are capable of targeting multiple applications,” adds Woo, “you can’t build targeted SOCs, so we are developing targeted interfaces for SOCs which allows them to address different applications and so amortise the high development cost of SOC.”
Asked how Rambus’ NAND-microprocessor interface development project went, Woo replies: “With NAND we developed a leading edge technology which is ahead of the market. The question for it is: Does the market need it?”
Alternative memory technologies which Rambus are pursuing are RRAM and MRAM. “For RRAM “we are looking at the fundamental cell technology and how to integrate an interface,” says Woo, “we’re also looking at MRAM – looking at how well does it scale? We’re getting high performance.”
Asked if the development of vertical NAND meant developing alternative mainstream non-volatile memory technologies was a waste of time, Woo replies: “We’ll see. My impression is that no one is 100% certain.”
Another diversification for Rambus is cryptography. Rambus acquired a cryptographic security technology by taking over a company called Cryptography Research Inc (CRI) in 2011 which had a technology called Differential Power Analysis. CRI now operates as a division within Rambus.
“The problem security has to solve is that you can extract the keys by monitoring the fluctuations in the power usage and, if you know the RSA algorithm, you can see the keys,” says Woo, “so you have to make it hard to see the power fluctuations by doing things like masking the power fluctuations and the EMI coming off the device.”
The Rambus technology has been used in cloned printer cartridges to authenticate genuine cartridges and to authenticate HDDs used for storing movies.
Finally Rambus is pursuing another diversification into sensors. Using its base DRAM technology, it has developed lensless imaging sensors.
So the rampant litigation mode which Rambus has inhabited for twenty-odd years is coming to an end with Micron the only stand-out among the memory companies. Rambus has learnt some lessons.
“We have learnt not to charge too much. We used to charge royalties of 6%. Now it’s 1%,” says Jerome Nadel, CMO Rambus.