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July 2009

Is the SoC Design Environment About to Change?

On 7/27/09 at the Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco, ARM, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, IBM, Samsung Electronics and Synopsys announced an agreement to establish a comprehensive technology enablement solution for SoC designs targeted at the mobile internet space specifically for the 32nm and 28nm process geometries.

While collaborations and partnerships between different semiconductor companies and other members of the ASIC design ecosystem are nothing new in the industry, this announcement has the look of something different for the ASIC market.

Essentially the participants have aligned their technology roadmaps, technology development, products and design tools to enable an all-encompassing environment for complex SoC designs. In fact, Synopsys showed a diagram of a single design suite that allows a designer the possibility to craft a complex SoC using a fully integrated suit of tools. It also allows for the incorporation and use of different IP blocks, supplied by both ARM and Synopsys, that are already pre-verified and characterized. This is definitely a step forward for the industry.

One of the very important aspects of this collaboration is the availability of a process technology that employs high-k metal-gate technology to reduce gate leakage while at the same time providing increased scalability and reducing overall complexity.

Some questions remain however.

The Foundry Market Is Hopping Again!

With reports of Q2 2009 foundry sales doubling compared to Q1 2009, foundries are increasing capital expenditures, beefing up design enablement tools and keeping their fingers crossed that improved sales will last for more than just two quarters.
The big news is that GLOBALFOUNDRIES is already making progress on their goal to win new sales from major semiconductor manufacturers with their announcement of STMicroelectronics as a strategic customer. Not only is STMicroelectronics a significant addition, their product focus with GLOBALFOUNDRIES will start with low power 40nm products. That’s a very nice win as the big three foundries are also courting new customers at that technology. But will GLOBALFOUNDRIES be able to keep up with all the design enablement offerings that are being developed by their competitors?
The Common Platform has taken another step toward a full service design to manufacturing service with the addition of the Synopsys design flow system Lynx into their ecosystem. The focus of this ARM-Synopsys-Common Platform partnership is on ARM’s high performance low power processor architecture combined with IBM’s high-k metal-gate 32/28nm low power process and the Synopsys design flow. Common Platform customers will have access to all this expertise with the potential benefit of getting 32nm/28nm products to market much earlier than originally planned.

Semico Executive Briefs: 30 Markets in 30 Minutes

A quick, yet in-depth guide to 30 key electronic markets

Phoenix, Arizona July 28, 2009 - The naysayers and skeptics believe it will take two years, maybe more, to return to 2007 electronic and semiconductor sales levels and that growth will never reach high double digit rates again. Semico believes otherwise. Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research does see a change in consumer buying patterns. The new consumer is a "value consumer". We may no longer be buying bigger homes, but instead, opting for goods that improve our lifestyle, such as a smart phone or a netbook.

Potential for High Technology Manufacturing In Our Own Backyard

At a time when most companies are cutting back on capital investment and capacity expansions, the challenge of developing a high technology industrial park appears to be an impossible task.  But Silicon Border continues to seize that challenge. 

Silicon Border is a 10,000 acre science park located in Mexicali, capital of Baja California.  The park hopes to attract semiconductor, flat panel display, photovoltaic and other technology-driven manufacturing tenants. 

Since breaking ground in 2005, Silicon Border has invested $20 million in preparing the infrastructure to support the needs of high technology manufacturing such as access to power generation (1600 MW), onsite water and waste treatment facility, advanced data and voice communication systems. 

In late-May 2009, solar-cell manufacturer Q-Cells, a manufacturer of solar cells,  announced plans to locate its North American manufacturing facility in the Silicon Border area with an investment of up to $3.5 billion.  This certainly makes sense.  Tenants of the Silicon Border Park enjoy free trade with 43 different countries, strong IP protection laws, a young, educated workforce and location incentives from the Mexican government. 

For selfish reasons, I am partial to locations in Arizona, however, this Park certainly provides an attractive option for companies that need easy transport access to U.S. markets while still enjoying low cost of operations. 

ASIC Design Starts: Sales and Opportunities

New ASIC Design Starts Reports

Phoenix, Arizona July 21, 2009 - Semico Research Corporation has just released two reports that provide both an historical analysis and forecasts the future of ASIC design starts.

GM Should (Still) Kill the Corvette

In July Semico published a blog, "GM should kill the Corvette.  That blog generated a heavy reader response, much of it defending the Corvette and its pushrod technology.  Having read the responses, I still think the Corvette uses highly-developed but archaic technology; but I also believe that the reasons why GM should kill the Corvette have to do with marketing, not technology.

One of the things contributing to GM’s troubles is that its divisions, which had been separate car companies, lost their brand identity.  The GM car you owned, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick or Cadillac, once made a statement about you that everyone from eight to eighty, male or female, understood.  You wore that identity like a suit of clothes.  That brand identity was destroyed.  

Chevrolet’s mainstream cars became nearly as big and heavy as Cadillacs:  same size engines, same feature sets.   Smaller Chevrolets were badge engineered to sell as Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Buicks or Cadillacs,  cheapening those brands.  Executives decided that it would be more economical to make one V-8 for several different divisions.  A Pontiac might actually have a Chevrolet engine; but, in the minds of the decision makers, the Chevrolet engine was just as good as a Pontiac engine would have been.  Who would care? 

GM Should Kill the Corvette

The Corvette is an American icon, the only American car capable of competing with exotic, imported sports carts; but GM should kill it.  The screams of legions of irate Corvette lovers can be heard in the background; but GM should ignore that and kill the Corvette.  One reason is that it uses antiquated technology, developed to perfection but still antiquated.  An example is its pushrod engine, 

With one exception, no other high-performance engine for at least fifty years has been a pushrod engine.  NASCAR, Trans Am or other rules-limited racing series engines don’t count.  The one exception is the Mercedes V-8 that gave Roger Penske his proverbial unfair advantage at the Indianapolis 500. 

In the nineties, in an effort to encourage the use of stock block engines to reduce costs in the Indy 500, USAC gave pushrod engines 48 cubic inches of increased displacement and 10 inches of increased turbocharger boost, acknowledging that DOHC engines had an inherent horsepower advantage. 

Ilmore Engineering, with backing from Mercedes-Benz, saw an opportunity that USAC didn’t anticipate, a purpose-built pushrod-engine that would have a huge advantage.  Al Unser Jr. won the 1994 Indianapolis 500 for Penske Racing with the engine, said to have 200 horsepower more than the DOHC racing engines. 

Finally, Phase Change?

The race to mass produce the next innovation in nonvolatile semiconductor memory appears to have a new contender.   Phase change memory (PCM) has been touted by industry leaders for years.  As far back as December of 2006 Wilhelm Beignvogl, SVP, technical innovation, Qimonda AG, stated, “phase change memories have the clear potential to play an important role in future memory systems”.  This statement came as researchers from IBM, Macronix, and Qimonda were prototyping the PCM memory device nearly four years ago.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and Numonyx BV recently announced they are jointly developing market specifications for PCM.  Could this be the key, finally, for wide scale commercial acceptance of PCM?  Most in the industry agree that developing package specifications and ensuring pin for pin compatibility will help speed up the adoption of PCM.  The two companies working together may also encourage future adoption as OEM’s are weary of contracting with only one manufacturer of new, unproven, technology.

Semiconductor Intellectual Property: Changes in Market Direction

Phoenix, Arizona July 6, 2009 - The 3rd Party Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) market was not immune to the market forces unleashed in 2008 but managed to achieve a 4.9% growth. While this growth rate was much lower than historical trends, it is Semico’s view that the IP market will continue to outperform other semiconductor markets, and remain in positive territory with 2.9% growth in 2009. The positive growth is due to the trend for more and more IP to be incorporated into SoCs and other device types that use IP.

2009 Semiconductor Capex: Are We Headed for a Shortage?

In 2009, capital spending is down 35% from 2008. Semico expects spending to rebound significantly in 2010 as projects that have been on hold get the green light. A beneficiary of this increased spending will be the 200mm used equipment market, which will see higher demand coming from this recovery.

“We’re halfway through the third quarter, and we’ve already seen increased capex projections from a number of companies,” stated Adrienne Downey, Director of Technology Research. “Despite this turnaround, we think it may not be enough to prevent spot shortages in 2010.”

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