New York (June 2, 2009)–National Semiconductor Corp. is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
National was founded in 1959, the same year the integrated circuit (IC) was created. In 1966, National moved the company’s headquarters to a large plot of land in Santa Clara, California, that was to become known as “Silicon Valley.”
The analog industry was started by engineers such as National’s Bob Widlar. In 1967, National developed the first integrated voltage regulator, the LM100. National went on to develop the industry’s first modern operational amplifier (LM101), which is still in use today. National developed the first band-gap voltage reference (LM113) and the first low-dropout (LDO) regulator (LM2930).
Product advancement has always been closely linked to changes in packaging and fabrication processes. National first developed the Epoxy B molding compound that allowed plastic packaging to block moisture. National continues to develop proprietary, analog-specific processes such as VIP (Vertically Integrated PNP) and ABCD (Analog-Bipolar-CMOS-DMOS).
Growth in the early days of the industry was driven by the Cold War and the Space Race. Robust integrated circuits allowed lightweight payloads to exit the atmosphere and survive in harsh environments. National’s products were used in 32 NASA programs, including the Venus probe and the Mars Rover, which is still roving the surface and sending back photos today.
The PC era drove the next significant growth phase for the industry. In addition to being the first company to develop a full 32-bit microprocessor, National developed mixed-signal interface and communication devices, such as the first 10 Megabit-per-second (Mb/s) Ethernet chips. National also pioneered Low-Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS), now used in notebook PCs, LCD displays and a wide variety of multi-media applications.
The next growth phase for the semiconductor industry was the rapid adoption of cellular phones and other mobile devices. National developed ultra-small packages (SOT23-5, micro SMD and LLP(r)) used in mobile power, audio, amplifier and interface products. The first true-color mobile displays were enabled by National’s white-LED drivers. As users demanded rich audio, National developed Boomer audio amplifiers providing sound at low power. National enabled full-sized, touchscreen displays through its development of the Mobile Pixel Link (MPL) interface and display driver technology. National’s power technology extended the battery life of mobile devices, and is part of many mobile power solutions.
Today, non-mobile electronic systems faced similar issues with heat dissipation, space constraints and the rising cost of energy. For example, data centers housing thousands of servers grapple with the cost of powering and cooling these energy-hungry systems. While previous generations of systems focused on performance at all costs, the industry is now focused on balancing performance with power consumption. In 2003, National developed PowerWise Adaptive Voltage Scaling (AVS), a technology for intelligently reducing the power consumption of digital systems by up to two-thirds. National has developed SolarMagic power optimizers. This new category of product is said to improve the energy output of solar arrays by intelligently distributing power electronics within solar installations.