Filipino computer genius conquers Silicon Valley
- Romel Bagares () - April 16, 2000 - 12:00am

If your personal computer can handle high-tech graphics today, you have a Filipino electrical engineer to thank.

Diosdado "Dado" Banatao invented in the late 1980s the world's first ever single-chip graphics accelerator, which is now found in nine out of 10 motherboards.

The Filipino computer genius - who conquered California's Silicon Valley with a slew of pioneering inventions that revolutionized personal computing - is today's guest speaker in the year 2000 commencement exercises at the state-run University of the Philippines (UP).

A very successful entrepreneur, Banatao - or "Dado" as he liked to be called - is in Manila to trace his roots after a three-decade absence.

"I'm here to pay back what I owe my country," the soft-spoken engineer told the Cypress forum at the Recio's Restaurant in Quezon City. "I figured that the best way to help is to link up with academic institutions like the UP, which is the country's premier institution of learning."

After his speech at the state university, he will be conferred an honorary doctor of science degree by university officials led by UP president Dr. Francisco Nemenzo.

The 53-year-old engineer, a cum laude graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT) in Manila, has expressed a keen desire to help the state university develop its information technology program.

His first contribution to the computer industry was the Ethernet controller chip, which he developed in 1982 in collaboration with engineers from 3 Com, now a major player in information technology. Because of the chip, an entire local area network (LAN) of many computers can be placed on a single board. Before that, computer networks operated on big, cumbersome systems that required a lot of space.

His next opus came two years later at a time when IBM introduced a new line of personal computers - the PC AT - that required many parts. Banatao introduced an integrated three-part PC chip set under his first company, Chips+Technologies.

The single-chip set launched the PC revolution and by 1986, the whole world was using the innovation, which lowered the cost of personal computers while taking it to higher levels of performance. The company went public and made a lot of money.

The semiconductor industry also recognizes the Filipino inventor for designing the S3 accelerator card that revolutionized the computer graphics industry and is now a standard in most PC systems. It is marketed by his new company, the S3 Inc., which is a chief provider of multimedia accelerator solutions for PC operating systems.

Banatao also heads the US-based Science and Technology Advisory Council, which is composed of Filipino scientists who want to help the Philippine government by providing expert advice on science and technology issues.

He recalled that when he was a student in Mapua, he frequented the UP Engineering library because it had a good stock of references. Now he is helping the state university's information technology needs by providing expert advice.

According to him, the country's information technology sector should have both focus and depth. He said that the Philippines is lagging behind other Asian countries because it lacks capability for creative design of semiconductors.

Until now, the country's export sector is only concentrated on semiconductor assembly, he noted. He stressed the need for deeper exploration of computer theory and practice in the country's academic institutions, saying government's budgetary priority is an essential component of a successful information technology program.

"Today, industrialization is heavily dependent on information technology," said the engineer who is married to a Filipina with whom he has three children, all graduates of the University of California in Berkeley. "Gone are the days when industries were based on mechanical technology."

He said the Philippines is never short on brains, adding that if Filipino information technology graduates have the proper training, they can compete with the industry's best.

"I was not the brightest among the engineers at Silicon Valley but I sure was hardworking," he told awe-struck reporters.

In 1997, he was awarded the prestigious Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Ernst & Young, Inc. magazine, and Merill Lynch Business Financial Services.

The Tuguegarao, Cagayan-born Banatao is considered a major figure in the development of several semiconductor, Seeq Technologies, Intersil and Commodore International.

He also founded three Silicon Valley-based semiconductor companies: Monstron, Chips + Technologies, Inc. and S3 Inc.

He also served as chairman of Cyras Systems, Inc., Marvell Semiconductor, Inc., New Moon Software, Inc., Newport Microsystems Inc., Silicon Access Technology Inc. SiRF Technology, Inc., Stream Machine and Sand Craft Inc.. All are privately owned companies.

Banatao had wanted to become a test pilot for Boeing, one of the world's largest aviation companies. Instead, he found himself in graduate school, working hard on his physics, math and science.

Shortly after completing a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Stanford University, Banatao set his sights on a nascent semiconductor industry. He joined a group of engineers which pioneered the design of microprocessors.

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