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Enabling IP Evolution and Growth

On Wed May 16, 2012 Warren East, CEO of ARM, gave the opening keynote address at Semico Research Impact Conference: The IP Ecosystem.  Mr. East addressed the issue of IP (Intellectual Property) evolution and growth.  Looking forward there has to be more collaboration in the IP world, both horizontally and vertically.

IP companies need to work closely with chip vendors.  Semiconductor companies want to hold onto what they see as differentiators.  But this may work against lowering development costs.

In the last 20 years ARM has enabled wireless mobility.  The fabless model has lowered costs and spawned the growth of many companies.

IP has value.  Mr. East cited Semico’s projection of $3 Billion in projected IP revenue in 2012, a 25% growth rate.  There are over 100 blocks per chip.

There are increasing demands on chip design.  Today the chip is the system.  The board complexity has moved onto the chip.  Designers have to balance power with performance.  There are optimized processing units designed for specific tasks.

The IP Subsystem Race is On

Designers at large IDMs first created their own IP Subsystems out of the discrete IP blocks they were already licensing or had developed internally.  This was done to both reduce the level of effort they were expending to create a certain level of functionality and to increase the performance of these discrete blocks in the design. This process has been occurring for the last 4 – 5 years as a captive activity at several of the larger IDMs around the world.

Now, for the first time, major IP Vendors are starting to offer their own IP Subsystems as products available from the 3rd Party market to designers at companies of all sizes. The IP Subsystem as a product is the embodiment of the desire by silicon designers to move up a layer of abstraction and to design with system-level functions instead of licensing many discrete IP blocks and aggregating them into the system-level functionality they need for their silicon solutions. By approaching the design flow in this manner, a great deal of time and cost can be removed from the design effort. There are several potential benefits to designers in adopting this approach:

The IP Ecosystem is Evolutionary, not Revolutionary

Vishal Kapoor was one of the speakers at the Semico IMPACT conference last week.  The key take away is that we need a change in perspective in the IP industry, one that is system driven.  We used to view IP as a “This is what I do” type of product.  But we need that to change to a “What can I do for you?” type of product.

We are in a evolutionary industry.  Around 2000 – 2005, we entered the age of consumerization.  Integration became important because Time to Volume and Time to Market are the two factors that most determine success in the consumer arena.

And what made the age of consumerization possible are standards.  Like the USB standard.  It created a megastore type of environment for IP.  A designer can walk down the aisle and find convenient and dependable parts that can be configured and integrated.

Complexity, though, hit a point when people could no longer do it themselves.  They had to start looking for others who had products that could work with their own.  That point was around 100 blocks.

The evolution of the IP system means that we can no longer just buy single blocks and then wait to see if they all work together.

There are a few questions you should ask to determine quality:

1)      Does it work in the system?

2)      Does it conform to parameters?

3)      Is it configurable?

4)      Does it work in both low and high end products?

Who Wins in the IP Ecosystem?

Mahesh Tirupattur, Executive Vice President of Analog Bits, led the panel "Who Wins in the IP Ecosystem?" during the Semico Impact 2012.  Other members of the panel were Suk Lee of TSMC, Jean-Marie Brunet of Mentor Graphics, Tony Stelliga of Intersil, and Dr. Naveed Sherwani of Open-Silicon.

Mr. Tirupattur began the panel by describing today's industry as a collaborative model, where customers tell the IP companies what they want, and what they can do better.  What the industry needs is a dynamic ecosystem that improves efficiency, with no waste or redundancy.  It's not just who wins in the ecosystem, but how do we get paid for the value we bring to the table?

Forecasting Wafer Demand: Technology Migration, Bottlenecks and Confetti

If you cover a long enough time period, the small ups and downs of a graphed line can look very smooth.  Semico’s semiconductor wafer demand data goes back to 1991.  When graphed from 1991 to 2016, wafer growth appears to have a very steady upward trend with only a few minor interruptions.  Wafer demand grows at a compound annual growth rate of about 8-9%.  When graphed against semiconductor units it looks very tame.  Looking at Figure 1 you may say to yourself, “The forecasting business can’t be that difficult.”  What’s so difficult about forecasting wafer demand?  Looking at the first graph, one might conclude that capital investment in fab capacity should be very successful if a company stuck with an 8-10% investment rate every year.

Figure 1: Semiconductor Unit Sales and Wafer Demand

Source: Semico Research Corp. & SIA

Reality sinks in when we look at the percent change in wafer demand since 1991.  (See Figure 2)  Wafer demand growth is anything but stable.  There is almost a 50-point spread between the peak growth year to the worst year of decline.  Even if we throw out the worst year (-23% decline in 2001) and the best year (25% growth in 1995) the change in wafer demand growth rates range from -2.7% up to 24.9%.

Figure 2: Percent Change in Wafer Demand

Source: Semico Research Corp. & SIA

ADI Blackfin DSP Roadmap to Machine Vision

Recently Analog Devices, inc. released the latest additions to its Blackfin family of DSPs.  The BF60x family is a high performance dual core design targeting high end embedded applications.  Two members, BF608 and BF609, integrate hardware processing for machine vision.  This recent product launch introduces ADI’s Pipelined Vision Processor (PVP). ADI’s PVP is a new dedicated vision accelerator.  The company touts this feature for sophisticated, multi-function analytics.  It can perform up to 25 billion math operations per second.  The BF608/9 is well suited for many embedded vision applications.  The PVP along with the dual 1GHz Blackfin DSP cores offers customers a flexible architecture for them to develop specialized algorithms.  The target applications are ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System), industrial machine vision, and security & surveillance. ADI’s PVP has several functional blocks.  It provides acceleration in such key areas as object detection, object tracking, and object identification.  The PVP architecture is able to run up to five vision algorithms simultaneously.  This enables vision systems to monitor and process data from several sources and off load work from a main processor.  This is particularly important in automotive applications where so many things are going on and driver safety is critical.

Are Gaming Consoles Still Relevant?

The digital home has been coming for decades. Ma Bell knew; 30 plus years ago, its vision of the future was "data and pictures at your fingertips." Star Trek knew; iPads were a standard accessory over 20 years ago in the show. And now reality is finally catching up.

This means big changes are needed in the console arena if they're going to be able to survive this new frontier. Our televisions are now smart and possibly 3D. Our Blu-ray players are smart and affordable. Our smartphones and tablets stream movies wirelessly to our TVs, and smartphones have become our gaming platform of choice. During previous console releases, selling points have included:

  1. Better graphics
  2. Inexpensive Blu-ray player
  3. Streaming HD content
  4. Innovative games, etc.

But these selling techniques won't work anymore for the following reasons:

Intel Leaves WSTS: Is It Really a Big Deal?

This week Intel confirmed that it has left the WSTS organization and, as such, will not be participating in the industry monthly data collection. Additionally, AMD pulled out of WSTS late last year. These are two significant players whose information will not be part of the official survey results.

Is this really a big deal?

It is disappointing to hear that these two companies do not see the value in participating in data collection for the semiconductor industry. As an analyst firm, Semico Research utilizes the monthly, quarterly and annual data as one of many reference points to triangulate our forecasts.

But Intel and AMD are not the only significant semiconductor companies that do not participate in the WSTS reporting structure. Other non-reporting members include:

Capex Disconnect

Most semiconductor companies have completed their 4th quarter 2011 earnings calls and announced their capital expenditure budgets for 2012.  Current capex plans indicate a weaker spending year for the industry compared to 2011.  Based on current announced plans, capex spending would fall 4.5% to $59.8 billion in 2012.  Semico believes some companies may be miscalculating the market. In 2011, semiconductor capex reached a record $62.7 billion, an increase of 25.6% over the 2010 level.  The growth was not nearly as high as the over 140% increase in capex that was spent in 2010. Top Ten Spenders in 2012:  Announced Capex Plans

US $ in millions



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Robots get a little scarier

If you've been following the robot arena, it all started with an innocent looking robot to learn how to flip pancakes.

And then scientists taught the robots to limbo.