Mercenary engineers: How design subcontractor Synapse works its magic in SoCs

SAN FRANCISCO — Subcontractors rarely reap public kudos. How many of you, among SoC designers, have ever heard of Synapse Design? How many at tier-one chip or system companies have actually worked with them? How many in the market know if the routers and switches, or smart TVs or tablets we use come with key SoCs designed by Synapse Design?

Chances are our paths have crossed with Synapse Design in one way or the other. But Synapse, which works under non-disclosure agreements for system and chip companies and has made it its business to remain silent, is virtually unknown. Synapse Design, however, has begun talking.

During the Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco earlier this month, Satish Bagalkotkar, co-founder, CEO, and president at Synapse Design, and Devesh Gautam, co-founder and COO, sat down with EE Times for an interview.

The company, although not naming clients, is willing to talk about the company’s achievements, largely in anticipation of evolving its business from strictly behind-the-scenes to becoming a trusted partner for its customers. Under the new model, instead of one-off service fees, Synapse Design hopes to share responsibilities and profits generated from additional new chip software and systems designs that prolong relationships with clients.

Bagalkotkar knows it won’t be easy. But the transformation will allow his company — established in 2003 — to “play a much bigger role” in the electronics industry in the coming decade, he stressed.

None of what Synapse Design has pulled off for its clients over the years is trivial. As a starter, the company has taped out 33 SoCs in the last 12 months. These SoCs are hardly simple. Integrated into them are digital, analog, and mixed-signal content. Actual SoCs Synapse helped design for its clients include a networking processor developed on a 300 mm2 die running at 1GHz and a 500 mm2 graphics processor with more than 80 blocks, at 1GHz speed, fabricated by using 28HPM.

Many SoCs Synapse Design has helped develop are built into systems across markets ranging from networking to automotive and mobile.

Mercenary engineers
To put it simply, Synapse Design styles itself as a mercenary design team. 

The team is designed to function like those private “military advisers” the United States has used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. The main difference is that Synapse Design’s mercenary team works in the SoC design world, not in the war zone. The clients aren’t the US government, but many are Fortune 500 companies.

The missions are similar: Help solve impossible predicaments for their clients. As special forces, they parachute in — anywhere in the world — and get embedded in the main team to complete the mission. Sometimes, clients ask Synapse Design to put together a special team at a specific location for a particular project.

Satish Bagalkotkar (right), Synapse Design co-founder, CEO and president at Synapse Design, and Devesh Gautam, co-founder and COO, at Design Automation Conference in June, 2014. (Source: Junko Yoshida)

Satish Bagalkotkar (right), Synapse Design co-founder, CEO and president at Synapse Design, and Devesh Gautam, co-founder and COO, at Design Automation Conference in June, 2014.
(Source: Junko Yoshida)

During the interview, Bagalkotkar stressed the company’s “zero re-spin” track record for SoCs they’ve designed. He believes this speaks volumes about the depth and the breadth of engineering talents his company has accumulated over the years. Today, the company, headquartered in San Jose, has more than 700 skilled design engineers across the world, serving customers locally from offices in the US, Europe, China, India, and Taiwan.

If you regard Synapse Design as an outsourcing outfit somewhere in India or China, on which system companies in the United States or in Europe have come to rely in hopes of lowering design costs, he would be the first to say you’ve gotten it all wrong.

To read more go to Page 2: Fabless to design-less.

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