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May 2010

Google TV: what does it mean for processors?

May 25, 2010

The world of TV is changing rapidly. The recent Semico Spin article by my colleague, Michell Prunty, presents the scenario that is playing out. The entire business model for TV is changing. Over a year ago cable TV companies were reporting that their cable subscriptions were dropping, but their internet business was growing. Clearly, people like Michell were contributing to this trend.

Over the course of the last decade there has been strong growth for TV set-top boxes as well as variations, such as IP-TV and satellite TV. Concurrent with this has been the transition to digital TV and HDTV. Consumer electronics companies are now working on 3DTV. But the new business model presented by Google TV has technical implications as well.

Google’s Android is open source. In terms of a processor it is considered architecture-neutral. It should be noted that the architecture with the dominant market share in DTV, TV STB, etc. is MIPS. The company has worked closely with Google to develop and support a software ecosystem for Android on MIPS-based solutions.

The digital home market is an important market for MIPS. It will work hard to maintain its dominant position. Since Android is processor agnostic there will be increased competition from ARM, Power PC and Intel’s Atom. The new platforms will have to deliver the performance and independence that consumers are looking for.

TV is not Dead. Cable is.

A few years ago we ditched our cable subscription. At the time we were constantly annoyed at how often we missed the shows we wanted to watch, and were uninterested in the shows that we were available to watch. The $60 a month seemed like a waste of money –no one in my house was taking advantage of the service, so we cut it.

It was hard to leave cable behind – we learned to listen to the radio or watch DVDs for entertainment, but it wasn’t the same. Everyone tried to convince us that we should get cable again – we weren’t able to keep up with the social commentary everyone was talking about. House? Lost? Heroes? We were left behind. The only answer seemed to be getting a $200 Tivo box, a subscription, and reinstate cable –something we weren’t willing to do.

And then, when our friends and family had just about given us up as hopeless, Hulu went live. Netflix added instant streaming. NBC offered recent shows online. Boxee went live. Youtube had full episodes playing. Bravo went online. It was a fountain of culture all easily and freely available on our computer. Once again, we could follow the conversations of our peers.

The only problem was that all this great culture was stuck on our computers. We had no real way to transfer it to our 54” RPTV that was sitting unused in front of our couch that we had also abandoned in favor of the office chairs. It wasn’t a comfortable situation.

DRAM Reversal of Fortune, Now What? 2Q2010

Semico’s most recent report DRAM Reversal of Fortune, Now What?, provides invaluable insight into where the memory segment is headed and why. With a detailed quarterly review of ASPs, unit shipments and revenues for 2009 and 2010, the numbers rise to the surface and tell the story of what to expect over the next several months. Capital expenditures, bit growth rate, DDR3 Crossover, and detailed forecasts by density migration, revenue, unit shipments, and ASPs through 2014, are all included.

Table of Contents: 

Micro Logic Semiconductors: A Market on the Rebound

Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2010 - Since 2H 2009 the Micro Logic market has been on an upswing. The momentum has been continuing throughout 2010. Semico foresees sustained growth for the next couple of years.

What is driving this growth? MPUs dominate revenues for ML. This reflects the renewed growth of the PC market. However, MCUs account for the unit volume. How is each of the MCU segments doing? Which markets are driving the growth for embedded control?

450mm Wafers: More At Stake Than Just A New Wafer Size

As the semiconductor industry grows its way out of the 2008/2009 downturn, it’s inevitable that the debate over 450mm wafers will rear its head again. The major objection to 450mm wafers lies in the research and development cost, and the ability of all parties involved to benefit from the large investment.

The industry cannot stagnate at the existing 300mm wafer technology. Consumer demands for more memory will push NAND and DRAM to ever increasing product densities and increased unit volumes. Logic products will continue to move up the performance curve while offering more features in a system-on-chip or high performance multi-core product. The ability to produce chips on a more economical manufacturing process is good for the overall industry's future. It’s the availability of low cost memory and high performance and/or low power processors that enables the creation of new applications, increasing demand for electronic goods and more semiconductors, a cycle that keeps our industry ticking.

And don’t forget, it’s the availability of mature capacity that enables a plethora of new features. When DRAM vendors moved to 300mm wafers, they used their old 200mm capacity to produce cost-effective CMOS image sensors. LED, medical applications and smart grid are being enabled because of efficient 200mm capacity which is available as advanced products move on.

450mm Wafer Manufacturing: Who Needs It?

Phoenix, Arizona May 13, 2010 - Who needs 450mm wafers? When should pilot production realistically be expected? These questions and more are addressed in the most recent Semico report entitled “450mm Wafer Manufacturing: Who Needs It?”. As the semiconductor industry grows its way out of the 2008/2009 downturn, it’s inevitable that the debate over 450mm wafers will rear its head again. The major objection to 450mm wafers lies in the research and development cost, and the ability of all parties involved to benefit from the large investment.

New Applications for 4G

On May 4th last week I moderated a panel at the GSA Silicon Series Luncheon. The topic was Next-Generation Networks: The Evolution of Mobile Connectivity.

GSA put together a great lineup of speakers and panelists. The keynote speaker was Arpit Joshipura, VP & Head of Strategy, Communications, Ericsson who gave a great review of mobile communications landscape. Mobile broadband is expected to connect over 50 billion devices by 2020. That translates into 10 connected devices per person. There’s a lot of speculation as to future uses. Arpit noted one application which he thought was bizarre, connected trees. I actually find that to be quite innovative. As a citrus tree owner, I would appreciate knowing when my fruit is ripe and when the birds are starting to attack my best fruit. Great application!

But getting back to the topic, the panel focused on mobile technology, 3G, 4G…Beyond 3G: 4G, WiMax, LTE...What Next?

Intel Smartphone Atom Platform and IP Subsystems

Intel gave an in-depth look at their Moorestown platform aimed at Smartphone designs to selected analysts on Monday the 4th of May. My colleague, Tony Massimini, is dealing with the particulars of Moorestown as a platform in a separate Semico Spin article. My article is going to deal with looking at the Moorestown architecture and its implications for SoC designs going forward.

One of the very interesting features of the Moorestown platform is in how it deals with power consumption in Smartphone applications. Intel is competing with ARM-based SoC solutions in this market and is being measured over several parameters that are important to Smartphone designers – not the least of which is power consumption. Intel has done a very good job in abstracting the X86 architecture and instruction set into its Atom CPU core, which is used in the Moorestown platform. This has also meant reducing the power consumption of an Intel-based processor and chip set. However, Intel is thinking a little bit beyond simple comparisons between one SoC and another to comparing the power consumption figures of one Smartphone platform to another. True, this is being done to put Intel in the most favorable light possible, but the idea does have some merit since consumers do not care about the specs of individual parts but rather about metrics that are meaningful to them like ‘talk time’, ‘standby time’ and total battery life.

Semiconductor Wafer Demand: Too Much Capacity in 2011?

Phoenix, Arizona May 10, 2010 - With semiconductor sales soaring to a possible 30% increase this year, companies are ramping up capacity to meet current and expected demand. But the capital invested during the balance of 2010 will not impact actual capacity until sometime in 2011. So does this mean an overcapacity situation in 2011?

Next Generation Intel Atom for Smartphones

The long awaited Moorestown platform has been released by Intel. This was presented at the Intel Developer’s Conference in September 2009. The Moorestown platform consists of the new Z6xx Atom CPU (formerly known as Lincroft), a controller hub (formerly known as Langwell), a mixed signal IC and wireless options.

The mixed signal IC (MSIC) integrates several analog and power functions. The mixed signal ICs and the wireless options are available from several other IC vendors, not Intel.

What is significant about this announcement is that Intel has delivered on its promise to deliver a highly integrated version of Atom with very low power consumption and high performance. Intel was able to integrate many of the functions that were previously in the chipset into the CPU. These functions are a scalable bus interface and coherency engine, 3D graphics, display controller, video decode/encode and the memory controller. The previous generation Z5xx series (Silverthorne) CPU and this latest version are both manufactured at the 45nm node. The Z6xx has an Ultra-Low Power (ULP) core.

Intel is touting its new OS Power Management (OSPM). This is a power management program aimed at the entire platform not just the CPU. The OSPM provides fine grain power management to the CPU, controller hub and the MSIC.

The key components of the Moorestown platform are available today. Pricing was not provided.

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