Monday, April 10, 2006

"CHIPS: Oscillator aims MEMS at the mainstream"

Since the '60s, microelectromechanical systems have struggled to enter the mainstream. With the success of selected MEMS applications, more players are entering the arena. But few have aimed at a larger market segment than SiTime Corp., whose MEMS-First oscillator lines are meant to be pin-for-pin compatible with quartz crystal oscillators. MEMS first became a high-volume industry with air bag sensors like the iMEMS accelerometers from Analog Devices Inc. and later with the digital-light processing (DLP) chips from Texas Instruments Inc. Most recently, Akustica Inc.'s sensor-silicon MEMS microphone has attracted attention. Now SiTime (Sunnyvale, Calif.) is bidding to become an even higher-volume player, since virtually every electronic device produced today uses a quartz-crystal oscillator as its time base. Gartner Inc. ( calls the market for analog quartz crystals relatively flat at over $1 billion yearly, with an average selling price of 15 cents on shipments of billions of units per year. Even while still in sampling mode, SiTime has started tapping that vast market by selling more than a million units of its prototypes. Full-volume fabrication of final production units from SiTime, which is fabless, is slated for later in 2006.