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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ST Microelectronics celebrates 20 years of Bristol design centre (and no, it isn’t a secret!)


ST Microelectronics is this week celebrating 20 years of its design centre in Bristol, with the great and the good cutting a ribbon in the foyer (make of that what you will – gratuitous video below!) But it is great to see the support.
What REALLY makes my blood boil is the phrase ‘Bristol is the best kept secret in chip design’, used unfortunately by Prof Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of Bristol University (left). I wrote the story of Bristol as the Silicon Gorge over 15 years ago now, and it has gone from strength to strength.
Bristol is the largest chip design cluster in Europe, according to analysts Future Horizons. Yes, it isn’t immediately obvious, but it is known in the industry, with ST, with Icera, with HP Labs, with picoChip, with SuperH, and so on and so on ...... It is not so obvious outside the semiconductor industry because there hasn’t been the focus on the equipment side, as there has been in Cambridge. Cambridge is more famous because it had more end user marketing through Acorn and companies like that (and spinning off ARM from Acorn) and what hasn't been promoted particularly are companies such as Motorola and Lucent in the region (becasue they are multinationals and this is just one site - but that's the point - that's why its a strong cluster, because those sites are here!) That’s one of the main reasons for SiliconSouthWest news letter, to stop this nonsense (latest issue was out on Friday, sign up for free).
The building in Bristol was opened by Inmos in 1986 before the company was bought by ST in 1989, and has housed the teams that developed the transputer, Chameleon media-processor and the ST40 processor cores – so it’s the building that’s been there 20 years, rather than ST. And the technology developed there - the processor, the system design, the OS20/OS21 operating system, the firmware and middleware - is used in digital TV set top boxes around the world, across the US, Europe and Asia.
The Advanced R&D Centre is one of 16 in ST and currently houses 200 engineers and designers working on the latest processor and chip technology for HD DVD, Blu ray, DVD recorders and set top box designs, as well as chips for GPS satellite navigation systems, printers and embedded wireless networking. The transputer lives on as the ST20+ core in many digital set top boxes, while the site is also recruiting wireless LAN designers to support the design centre in Reading that came with the acquisition of startup Synad.
“The technologies that we develop here become fundamental technologies in a whole range of products as both chips and technology blocks,” said Greville Commins, a marketing director at the site.
Cutting the ribbon are Christos Lagomichos, vice president of the Home Entertainment group at ST (left), Prof Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of Bristol University (centre) and Graham Harrison, head of sector development for the South West regional Development Agency (SWRDA) (right).

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