"Bringing the Future to Your Industry"

Forbes, Feb 26, 1996 v157 n4 pS62(1)

Digital cowboys. (Texas Instruments TMS320C80 digital signal processor development team)(Forbes ASAP) (Company Business and Marketing) James Daly.

Abstract: Texas Instruments (TI) design teams in Texas and England have worked together to create TIs TMS320C80, known as the C82, digital signal processor. The success of this effort proves that once a group is wired, the location of the coworkers is irrelevant. TIs digital signal processors are typically assigned special purposes in high volume applications, such as graphics-demanding PC games, video conferencing applications and videophones. Fifty British designers were divided into six teams to build the chip, while 20 Houston engineers coded the software that would make the C82 work. Extensive e-mail, lengthy phone calls and video conferences provided information exchange between the two groups. Samples of the C82 will be available later in 1996 for $82 each. The chip is likely to be popular with cost-sensitive manufacturers interested in marketing desktop video conferencing systems for less than $500.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1996 Forbes, Inc.

There's a strange sound coming out of the Houston offices of Texas Instruments M) these days. It's the distinctive lilt of a British accent.

The incongruous bit of jolly old England pops up during the weekly half-hour video conferences between chip designers in the hickory-smoked Texas lowlands and their British counterparts an hour north of London. Together, they're wrapping up a nine-year effort to create the C82 digital signal processor (DSP).

This ocean-straddling approach of linking more than 70 farflung designers exploits what economist William Knoke, author of Bold New World, calls "the technologies of placelessness.' In short: Once you're wired, it doesn't matter whether coworkers are across the hall or the hemisphere. "It no longer matters where someone is physically," Knoke says. "A team can consist of an engineer in Germany, a programmer in India, a marketing guru in California."

TI's C82 (its full name is the tongue-tangling TMS32OC80) fits into the $10.3 billion chipmaker's strategy of targeting very specific markets. The star player in Ti's $6.8 billion annual chip business is the digital signal processor, an integrated circuit usually assigned to a special purpose (such as sound reproduction) in high-volume applications where cost is king: graphics-hungry PC games, videophones, video conferencing applications. TI's Northampton, England, design center began as a backroom adjunct to a manufacturing plant that started baking integrated circuits in 1978. When, TI sold the plant last year to a local chipmaking startup, TI's Houston office made a critical decision.

"We had some bright people that we didn't want to lose," says Karl Guttag, an 18-year TI veteran and the C80's chief architect. With a proud history of circuit design Ti's jack Kilby coinvented the integrated circuit in 1958), TI knows it is only as good as its worst engineer. Says Guttag: "I don't care where people are located. I want to get as many good ideas on the table as I can"'

Fifty British designers split into six teams to build the guts of the chip, which performs a jaw-dropping 1.5 billion operations per second. Assignments range from creating the RISC engine to fine-tuning the video controller. In Houston, 20 engineers code the software that will make the C82 work in such things as videophones and desktop video setups.

Lengthy phone calls, extensive e-mail and video conference hookups provide the back-and-forth into exchange between the two groups. The six-hour time differential between Houston and Northampton also comes in handy--the Texans can shuttle a problem over to England at quitting time; typically, an e-mail answer awaits the next morning.

TI isn't the only chip company going global in order to ease the pinch of lengthy design efforts that can cost upwards of $100 million. Motorola interwove the work of teams in Austin, Texas, and in Israel, for instance, to complete its 563000 DSP. 'It's a financial necessity," says Jim Turley, senior editor at Microprocessor Report in Sebastopol, Calif "Designing a chip often takes far longer than the time it's for sale. You have to split up the work to stay flexible and competitive."

Samples of the C82 will be mass-produced later this year for $82 each. The diminutive chip could be a hit with cost-sensitive manufacturers hoping to sell things like desktop video conferencing systems for less than $500--a price expected to fire demand. "What video conferencing and 3D graphics need to really take off is a high-performance engine for under 100," says TI program manager Rick Rinehart. "The C82 will be that engine." Cheerio, y'all.


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