August 10, 2000
WASHINGTON, AUG 8: When the venerated Dr Vinod Dham, popularly known as the "Father of the Pentium Chip" left Intel in 1995 to join a little-known company called NexGen, his explanation was simple: He wanted to be associated with a start-up. ""I did not want my career to end without ever having had an experience in a start-up," he said in an interview. "I did not want to retire and wonder what would have happened."
Unfortunately for Dr Dham, NexGen was bought just a few months later by Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) for $ 630 million. And world famous chipmeister ended up architecting the K-6 chip, rival to the Pentium, thus putting his imprint on the two of the PC world’s best selling chips.
So a few months down the line, Dr Dham tried again, this time joining a new start-up called Silicon Spice as the CEO. Spice, went Silicon Valley whispers, was working on a new generation telecom chip for faster Internet access. In hype-driven Silicon Valley, Dr Dham himself kept mum as Spice worked in what is known as a "stealth mode."
Last weekend, Dr Dham was happily foiled again when the upstart chipmaker Broadcom announced it was buying the start-up Silicon Spice for $ 1.2 billion in stock. The deal is another whopper for a company that involves an Indian at the helm, a company rumoured to have remarkable technology but no revenue.
Broadcom’s chips, used in most cable modems and many other devices, enable computer networks to carry video and other high-density data that would clog regular phone lines. The company says Silicon Spice and its communications processor technology will enable it enter new markets for delivering broadband connections to virtually “any service, any port.”
Silicon Spice is Broadcom’s 12th acquisition in the past year, a spree that includes Armedia Inc., a Bangalore-based digital video laboratory that was bought some months back for $ 65 million.
The latest chapter in Silicon Valley’s chip saga marks another spicy turn in Dr Dham’s illustrious career that first saw him father three generation of microprocessors — from the 386 to the Pentium — at Intel, where he worked for 16 years. As if bequeathing the Pentium for Intel was not good enough, he then moved to the rival Advance Micro Devices (AMD) and delivered the K-6 chip there.
Dham came to the United States in 1975 after a B.Sc in Physics from Delhi University with the proverbial empty billfold. He graduated from the little-known University of Cincinnati with a degree in solid-state electronics and joined the National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio, in 1977 to work in the company’s memory design group. The story goes that he had never seen snow in his life and the first time it fluttered down he raced out and played around like a child. He promptly fell sick and it was the end of his honeymoon with winter.
In 1979, when Intel offered him a job in sunny California after hearing him present a paper on re-programmable memory, he snapped up the offer. Dr Dham went to become something of a legend in Intel and in the chip industry in the US. He worked with teams that made the 386 and 486 chips and is also credited with co-inventing Intel’s flash memory cell. In 1989, he was entrusted with the Pentium development project, after earning encomiums for his work on the early generation 386 and 486 chips. By the time he would say goodbye to Intel he was Vice President of the company’s microprocessor products division and General Manager of the Pentium processor division, reporting only to the CEO Andy Grove.
Dham later eased out of Intel to join NexGen, a smalltime chip-maker co-founded by Indian-American Thampy Thomas and managed by Atiq Raza, a Pakistani-American, one of the several instances in Silicon Valley where Indians and Pakistanis have worked together in relative comfort. His exit from both Intel and AMD provoked intense reporting and debate in the hi-tech press and Silicon Spice was one of the most watched companies in the chip industries because of Dr Dham’s awesome reputation.
In 1999, he was named to "A" magazine’s list of most influential Asian Americans of the last decade. Earlier this year, President Clinton named him to an Advisory Committee on Asian Americans.
(While Dr Vinod Dham’s Silicon Spice was gobbled by Broadcom, Computer Associates, the world third-largest software maker (after Microsoft and Oracle) announced on Monday that it is appointing the Sri Lanka-born Indian Sanjay Kumar as its CEO.)
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