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June 2007

Automotive Semiconductor Looks Bright

Although 2007 is shaping up to be a difficult year for the auto manufacturers, especially those lines devoted to large SUVs and trucks, the reality of high gas prices is the Achilles heel to auto manufactures. Demand for these vehicles is prompting production and job cuts. With that being said, there are many opportunities for the semiconductor suppliers in the short and long term. Fuel efficiency, hybrid technology and alternative fuel blends are the rage. This is opening the door to the use of more and higher complexity electronics to boost gas mileage.

Today hybrid vehicles have achieved about a 25% improvement in fuel consumption. This has been achieved by marrying electronics with two propulsion power engines, gas and electric. These are expensive to build and repair and actually have significantly more moving parts. A trend manufacturers really don’t like; as the moving parts increase the likelihood of a part failure tends to increase. Hybrids are a stepping stone to the plug-in electric vehicle that will sport a single drive train, electric. This conversion will result in vehicles that have 10 times less moving parts than current cars. Additionally, electric cars will consume more semiconductors than internal combustion propelled vehicles.

Currently the auto industry is developing several electronic systems that will see broad deployment in the next five years. The two areas are in safety and in cabin electronics.

ST Flexes new ARM MCU

Last week STmicroelectronics announced it next ARM MCU, STM32, based on the ARM Cortex-M3 core. ST’s first general market ARM MCU, STR710 was introduced in 2004. This is ST's first Cortex M3 MCU.

ST stated it was responding to customers asking for higher performance but with low power consumption. The company claims it is delivering on this along with a high level of integration. Code density is achieved with the Thumb-2 instruction set.

ST has designed the STM32 for battery operation. Target markets include point of sale terminals (including handhelds), USB devices, industrial automation, building security/fire/HVAC, appliances, portable digital consumer, and portable medical consumer products.

Initially the STM32 will be offered in a range, with a 48-pin, 32KB flash at $1.80 per 10Ku to a 100-pin 128KB flash priced $3.60 per 10Ku. Design kits are available 4Q 2007. ST is also offering a Motion Control Firmware Library (available 4Q 2007) which is aimed at industrial applications and appliances.

Semico Spin

New Intel Chipset Sets the Stage for Quad Core

Recently Intel announced its Intel 3 Series Chipset formerly known as Bearlake. This chipset is designed for the upcoming quadcore MPU code named Penryn, Intel’s first MPU in 45nm.

Intel 3 will be known as the X38 and G35 Express Chipset. This family will feature a front side bus (FSB) of 1,333 MHz and support DDR3-1333. Parts will be rolled out over the course of a few months from 2Q ’07 to 3Q ’07. The chipset is manufactured on Intel’s 90nm process. There will be several family members that will cover the spectrum of desktop market segments. This is a departure for Intel. Previously, older chipsets would be transitioned slowly out of the market by migrating down through the lower cost PC segments.

The nomenclature includes a key letter to distinguish some basic feature.

X: extreme processor (e.g., high end gaming systems), no integrated graphics core

P: channel processor, focus on performance of memory controller, no integrated graphics core.

Q: Business (Stable Image Platform), security and manageability features (vPro), with integrated graphics

G: Mainstream, consumer and business, with integrated graphics.

Semico Spin

Freescale’s PowerQUICC, Not Just for Communications

PowerQUICC has been a mainstay in the communications market for several years. Customers have found uses for it elsewhere. Last week Freescale announced a formal program to target industrial control and general purpose applications with PowerQUICC.

PowerQUICC is the PowerPC with a communications core added. The Industrial market is moving toward Ethernet-based networks. Freescale is offering a standard product and a development system with protocol stacks for the industrial control market. This is an alternative to proprietary ASICs and FPGA solutions. This will reduce the time to market as well as offering lower cost.

Semico Spin

Freescale is leveraging its experience and knowledge in communications and networking for the industrial control market. This streamlined platform for industrial markets provides the kind of flexibility, programmability, and price points that solutions relying on ASICs and multi-chip solutions cannot deliver. The security and reliability that made PowerQUICC technology pervasive in networking markets should translate well to Industrial markets.

 

Freescale Continues Advances in 3D Accelerometers and Touch Sensors

Last week Freescale announced its latest 3D Accelerometer (MMA7450L) and new Proximity Capacitive Touch Sensor Controllers (MPR081/2).

The MMA7450L is Freescale’s first accelerometer with digital output. It provides three levels of g-level selection and a freefall detect pin. Freescale is offering this in a smaller package and with lower current consumption. The goal is to match this with Freescale’s i.MX processor, a smart phone application processor. Freescale is sampling now and production is slated for August 2007.

The MPR081 is designed a rotary 16 position touch sensor, the sort that is used for MP3 players. The MPR082 is a controller for a touchpad that is a matrix with up to 20 keypads. These controllers provide a digital output and are based on a low-voltage, low current technology. The MPR081 is sampling June 2007 and in production October 2007. The MPR082 will sample in August 2007 and in production 4Q 2007.

Semico Spin

Freescale has been a leader in the accelerometer and sensor markets for many years. Portable and consumer applications will be a growth opportunity for these markets. These devices will enable new features in mobile communications and consumer products.

ARM Addresses Challenges of Future SoC Designs

Recently ARM announced its AMBA Verification IP. ARM has been growing at a strong pace driven by the mobile communications market. However, the non-mobile segment, while smaller, is growing at a faster rate. This includes enterprise, home and embedded control applications.

Another growing trend is multi-core. The eventual result will be much more complex SoC’s. These devices will become essentially subsystems on a chip. The increasing complexity leads to bottlenecks. The traffic management within the SoC will become critical. Designers will need a tool that addresses the on-chip communication.

ARM claims to offer a solution for verification and validation of AMBA based SoCs. One EDA company is already an early adopter. Early partner availability is expected for 3Q07 with product release slated for 4Q 07.

Semico Spin

ARM has a long track record of providing its customers with design tools not just CPU core designs. Semico sees ARM addressing future challenges in SoC design at an early stage. The growth of complex multi-core designs is enabled by such a tool.

Akustica Continues Digital Microphone Innovations

In recent weeks Akustica has made two major announcements. One is a high definition microphone and the other the world’s smallest microphone.

The high definition voice product is aimed at the emerging demand for higher bandwidth for VoIP. Akustica is in discussions with Skype and Google Talk.

The smallest microphone is the result of a die shrink that resulted in a 70% smaller die. Akustica claims that it can reduce the price to meet the cost requirements of the cell phone market and even exceed expectations. The package measures 1mm x 1mm.

Semico Spin

Akustica first emerged a little over a year ago. What has always been notable about the company is that all of its products use standard bulk CMOS. This is impressive in the MEMS market where well established companies have there own special processes. The microphones have CMOS logic integrated onto the MEMS.

Akustica’s early design wins have been in the notebook PC market, with systems available in 2007. Growth is being driven by such applications as VoIP, web cams, and Youtube. With the latest product announcements it is apparent that Akustica will broaden its target markets to include cell phones.

It appears to Semico that Akustica is offering a compelling solution that can reduce not only cost, but also size constraints as well as offer improved performance.

Microchip Expanding 16-bit MCU Line

Last week Microchip Technology announced further expansion of its burgeoning 16-bit product line. Microchip has become the leading vendor of 8-bit MCUs. However, it is also growing in the 16-bit MCU space with both standard MCU and Digital Signal Controllers (DSC) which are MCUs with DSP functionality. The new products are PIC24 and dsPIC33.

Microchip is targeting the smart sensor and motor control markets with these devices. The company offers a seamless path among its PIC24 and dsPIC product lines enabling customers to trade off price, performance, and features. The dsPIC33 offers self-calibration for the sensor market. There are motor control versions which integrate several power functions such as PFC and load control. The general purpose versions offer CAN.

One key element in the recent announcement is Field Oriented Motor Control. This is an algorithm Microchip provides for free. It runs on the dsPIC12MC202. This algorithm provides complex control of such motor control features as torque control, noise reduction and power efficiency.

Semico Spin

Interop

Last week Semico had the opportunity to visit Interop at Mandalay Bay. With over 400 exhibitions, it was hard to pick a favorite, so here are some of the products that caught our attention.

For enterprise solutions the AdderLink ipeps (IP-engine-per-server) stood out among the KVM switches. A KVM-via-IP product, the palm-sized AdderLink ipeps enables computer access from any location via the internet or a corporate network.

Phihong USA demonstrated their PoE workstation using their POE60U-560G and POE45D-120 products. PoE workstations are targeted to schools, call centers, brokerage houses, and emergency services for its cost savings and single point of backup in case of a power outage. Using the IEEE 802.3at standard, their products deliver 60watts over a PoE cable, enough power to run the workstation and monitor.

Fujitsu announced their next mobile WiMax SoC, touting substantial speed and performance improvements. Additionally, Makoto Awaga said, “we are confident we will be able to achieve the lowest power consumption for this class of device.” Any product update that can provide increased performance with low power is a good thing, but in the mobile WiMax market, media rich applications are desperate for increased performance to help this emerging market take off.

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