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The GigaChip Interface: A Network Processing Memory Access Time Solution

In an a May 2, 2011 presentation at the Semico Summit, Mr. Len Perham CEO, MoSys, Inc. discussed looming problems in the processing of Internet traffic and offered a solution. According to Mr. Perham, Internet traffic will increase exponentially over the next three years, driven by applications such as video streaming, IPTV, P2P, cloud computing, social networking and VoIP + video.  Today’s traffic routing methods will not be able to keep up with that growth, and memory is the bottleneck. 

The problem is that today’s 40Gbps and 100Gbps packet processor line cards address memory on parallel connections, which will not be adequate at faster speeds beyond 100Gbps.  Routing data at those speeds will require a serial connection to the memory, not a parallel connection. MoSys has developed the GigaChip™ Interface, which is now an open standard supported by the GigaChip Alliance. 

The GigaChip Interface is a short-reach, low-power serial interface, which enables highly efficient, high-bandwidth, low-latency performance.   It provides a fundamental performance breakthrough similar to the breakthrough achieved by DDR (Double Data Rate) DRAM.   The GigaChip Interface, using differential SerDes technology, is the next breakthrough in network processor to memory connections.  It allows a multiple-processor network processor to address multi-bank, multi-partitioned memory, so that each processor has access to memory without waiting.

Dual Paths Down the Cost Curve: Scaling and 3D

Joe Sawicki, VP and GM of the Design-to-Silicon Division for Mentor Graphics, joined us at the Semico Summit on Tuesday to discuss scaling and the conversion to 3D.  He focused on a motto of “Willful Optimism” for the future.

Moore’s Law has been a cornerstone of our industry for 40 years, and a trend the speakers at the 2011 Summit were discussing was “More than Moore,” an idea that we are moving away from density to integration.  Joe Sawicki addressed this idea by discussing how scaling can only get us so far with advancing our speed and storage capabilities.  By 2026, he said, if we hold to Moore’s Law, we’ll be holding half a year’s movie collection on our phone.

In the future, Mentor Graphics believes we may be seeing the “e-Cube,” where we’ll have cubes of semiconductors instead of a die.

In discussing transitioning to 3D, there are cost and thermal issues, regardless of the advantages.  As a stepping stone, the industry can obtain many of the advantages of 3D by using 2.5D, a cost effective method to swing into the next generation.

Finally! Solid Data For The Semiconductor Secondary Equipment Market

The semiconductor industry grabs headlines as companies such as Intel announce the construction of multi-billion-dollar state-of-the-art research and manufacturing facilities. High performance servers, PCs and most of our electronic devices would not exist today if it weren’t for the continual advancements made in semiconductor manufacturing technology. While the most advanced chips supply the processing power and memory needed to provide the functionality and capabilities of our newest mobile devices and home electronics, they are surrounded and supported by dozens of other non-leading edge or mainstream semiconductor devices that play a crucial role in the electronics industry but don’t garner the same level of attention.

The vast majority of these mainstream semiconductors are actually manufactured on something less than leading edge technologies. Analog devices, sensors, microcontrollers, optoelectronics, discretes, MEMS and a number of other semiconductor products comprise the largest markets in terms of semiconductor units.

Akustica AKU230: A Tiny Microphone with Huge Potential

Can you hear me? I’m using a microphone on a 0.7mm2 MEMS die in a package measuring only 3.76mm x 4.72mm x 1.25mm. It’s the Akustica AKU230 digital, CMOS MEMS microphone, announced on March 30, 2010. For anyone who still doesn’t speak metric, the package size is less than 3/16” X 1/8” X 3/64.” For anyone still having trouble visualizing it, the package is smaller than a 14 point font capital “A” stamped out of a penny as a rectangle. In the simplest terms, really small. Of course, I’m not really using the Akustica AKU230, but I could be. It is used primarily in notebook computers, just like the one I’m typing on. The AKU230 is manufactured using conventional CMOS processes. The microphone membrane is a metal/dielectric layer, manufactured just like every other metal/dielectric layer in a CMOS process. The ADC circuitry is located around the membrane and is fabricated at the same time as the membrane during the same conventional CMOS processes. This approach offers savings in silicon area compared to a MEMS microphone fabricated using more traditional MEMS processes. Some MEMS microphones have an analog audio output. Some have an analog audio output but can provide a digital output using a second semiconductor, essentially an ADC. Akustica MEMS microphones, including the AKU230, are the only MEMS microphones that combine the microphone and the ADC circuitry on one chip, offering a simpler, less expensive solution and one insertion cost rather than two.

More Base Station DAC Performance with Less Power and Size

As cell phones improve, offering more features and higher data transmission rates, base station manufacturers must provide more with less.  More bandwidth, more channels, more quality of service with less power, less space and less cost.  On March 21, 2011 Texas Instruments Incorporated announced the availability of three new 16-bit DACs that will help base station manufacturers accomplish exactly that.

Part number DAC3484 is a quad DAC with an interleaved 16-bit input bus.  It has a sample rate of 1.25 GSPS and 2X -16X interpolation, which allows a 312.5MSPS input each of its on four paths.   Part number DAC3482 is a dual DAC, also with 2X - 16X interpolation, which allows an input rate of 625MSPS on each of its two channels.  Finally, part number DAC34H84 is a quad DAC with a wider 32-bit input bus, which allows a sampling rate of 625MSPS on each of its four paths.

Let’s focus on the DAC3484.  Its sampling rate is 25% faster than its nearest competitor.  It needs only 250mw of power, 65% less than its competition.  It fits in a 9mm X 9mm multi-row QFN package, 40% smaller than its nearest competitor.  It has an internal low-jitter 2x to 32x phase locked loop timer, which eliminates the need for an external, low-jitter clock multiplier to match the interpolated rate.  This is doing more with less.

Analog Circuit Design to Go

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a design engineer at a company making an industrial control device or a medical instrument.  You’ve got the digital portion of your design pretty well nailed, but there is a 4mA to 20mA process control loop and some isolation issues that you’re a little concerned about.  Although you could design some analog circuits to solve these problems, you’re really a digit-head.  It would take a lot of your time, and you’re not sure you would get it right the first time.  What to do? Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) has solved your problem.  ADI has recently introduced an expanded version of the company’s Circuits from the LabTM reference circuits.  These are not reference designs.  They don’t tell an engineer how to design an entire system.  Rather, they provide lab-tested circuit designs for some common analog circuits that give design engineers problems.  Some examples are ADC drivers, DAC outputs, RF or IF circuits or isolation circuits.  A complete list is available on the ADI website. In addition to the circuit design, ADI also provides circuit documentation test data and is now offering PCB layout files, software device drivers and, in some cases, evaluation hardware.  The purpose is to provide a deeper understanding of the circuit so that an engineer can easily trouble-shoot any glitches that might crop up.

The Impact of Japan's Earthquake on the Electronics and Semiconductor Industries

The strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan occurred Friday at 2:46 PM local time.  The earthquake and resulting tsunami were so powerful, the island shoreline was moved 8 feet!  Following the massive 8.9 earthquake was a tsunami that unleashed further devastation.  In the ensuing hours, additional damage reports coming from Japan reveals how damaging this quake really was.  Two nuclear facilities with a total of five reactors received severe damage.  One facility that contains three reactors is an older GE design commonly found in the U.S. as well.

As of today, there have been two explosions.  An explosion shattered the building housing the nuclear reactor on Saturday.  Although government officials are claiming that the metal containment vessel surrounding the reactor is still intact, clearly the situation is getting worse, not better.  Rods have been exposed twice, resulting in a partial meltdown.  At this point, the best case scenario will be to stop the nuclear reaction, cool the facility down, encase it in concrete, and abandon the facility.  This would leave Sendai in an electricity deficit from the closure of 3 to 5 reactors.  This certainly will cause some problems for the semiconductor and related manufacturing facilities in this area as they are electric power hogs.

Is This Really the Post-PC Era?

The latest introduction of iPad2 and the rise of the tablet PCs has prompted once again the proclamation that we are now in the Post-PC Era.  It seems we have been living in a Post-PC Era for about the last 15 years.  Every time there is an innovation in consumer electronics it is hailed as a major shift that will adversely impact the PC market.  First it was PDAs such as the Palm Pilot.  The cell phones and subsequently smart phones resulted in people sounding the death knell.  Today it is the iPad2 and tablet PCs.  If this is in fact the Post-PC Era, why did Apple introduce a high end MacBook notebook featuring Intel’s Thunderbolt last week?  This was announced just before the iPad2 launch.

I will contend a more correct description is the PC Enhancement Era.  All of these devices have grown and provided a larger TAM for the semiconductor market.  But the PC market continues to grow and is a huge market for semiconductors.  In 1996 the total PC market of desktops and notebooks was 78 million units.  By 2010, including netbooks, the PC market has grown to 328 million units.  This year that number is expected to reach 368 million.  This is happening even with tablet PCs growing to between 30 and 40 million units in 2011.

All these electronic devices work with a PC and enhance each other’s capabilities.  Until there is a major change to the iPad platform you need a PC to work with it.

iPad2 Adds Cool Improvements Yet Memory Remains Unchanged

The much anticipated announcement of the Apple iPad2 took place today.  Steve Jobs actually keynoted the announcement and received a standing ovation, despite his ongoing health issues.  Many of the announced features were expected improvements over the iPad; the basics include:

Intel’s Thunderbolt: Will It Shock The Computing Market?

Intel has released the Thunderbolt technology (Feb. 24, 2011) with Apple as the first OEM to implement it.  Originally code named Light Peak, this latest technology is designed for faster media transfer and simplified connections between devices.

Thunderbolt combines both optical and electrical technology.  It consists of controllers, one at each end (PC and peripheral device), a common connector and a Thunderbolt cable.  Devices can be daisy chained connected by electrical or optical cables.

The first product to hit the market with Thunderbolt is Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro notebook PCs.  It should be made very clear that Thunderbolt is not exclusive to Apple.  Thunderbolt is a new PC technology developed by Intel.  Going forward Thunderbolt is expected to be deployed by other OEMs.

According to an Intel spokesperson, the current version of Thunderbolt connector technology will be licensed broadly to the industry.  This will enable products using Intel’s Thunderbolt controllers.  At first Intel is focused on enabling targeted products.  However, deployment will broaden as the technology ramps.

Thunderbolt combines high-speed data and HD video connections together onto a single cable.  There are two communication methods or protocols – PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays.  The transfer rate for media files is 10Gbps.

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