Michell Prunty is Semico's Senior Consumer Analyst.  See her bio here

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Medical or Industrial USB 2.0 Voltage Isolation in a Drop-In Package

If you’ve ever been in a hospital bed, or seen a loved one in a hospital bed, hooked up to a cluster of electronic sensors; the thought has to have crossed your mind, “A person could get a bad electrical shock from one of those.”  Analog Devices has introduced a low cost solution to help keep that from happening. 

A just introduced Analog Devices device, part number ADuM4160, provides USB isolation in a single package.  Many pieces of medical equipment now have a USB cable connection to a PC.  To protect the patient, the medical equipment and the PC, the equipment and the PC should be electrically isolated on that USB connection.  Until now, that required an expensive USB cable with a built-in isolation module or circuit designed in-house and built into the equipment, something typically outside the company’s core design expertise. 

The new Analog Devices part is a drop-in solution that provides 5kV rms isolation at less than half the cost of the previous solutions.  It is fully USB 2.0 compliant for 1.5Mbps low speed and 12Mbps full speed applications.  Because it provides isolation in both directions, it protects the monitor as well as the patient.  This is especially important for defibrillation.  The patient must be unhooked from all medical devices before defibrillation shocks can begin.  The Analog Devices part provides an additional safeguard in case a mistake is made. 

Freescale Semiconductor KERS Experience Assists in the Race for Better Hybrid Electric Passenger Car Technology

An electronic control system for Formula One cars that Freescale Semiconductor is developing in collaboration with McLaren Electronic Systems puts Freescale in the forefront of hybrid electric vehicle technology development.

“Racing improves the breed,” is a saying first applied to horses.  It was carried over to automobiles, but in recent years it has hardly seemed to apply.  Open wheel racing cars have had little or no resemblance to passenger cars and even “stock” cars have been little more than racing chassis with lightweight bodies wrapped around them.  In 2009, however, Formula One cars will add a system that really may improve passenger cars.

In 2009 Formula One rules will allow cars to use a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which will use regenerative braking to store mechanical energy in a flywheel or electrical energy in a battery or supercapacitor.  The driver can press a button on the steering wheel to use the stored energy to add a 60kW (80.5 horsepower) burst of power for passing or defending his position.  So far, most of the teams have chosen the electrical option, using a battery and an electric motor/generator.

Moore's Law Marches On

Next week Intel will be presenting several papers at the IEDM in San Francisco. Mark Bohr, Intel Senior Fellow and some of the research team previewed three of the topics being presented. The common theme through all three papers reflects Intel’s drive to push conventional technology as far as it will possibly go. The company feels that’s easier to do rather than introduce a whole new set of materials at this time. That being said, Intel also pursues new material research. The plan is to have options and solutions available and ready to implement when traditional silicon processing runs out of steam.

Following is a quick review of three papers that Intel will be presenting.

32nm Logic Technology

In September 2007, Intel announced their fully functional 32nm SRAM with a 0.18um2 cell size. Today they are touting a 291Mbit SRAM, the same density as before, but with a 0.171um2 cell size. This SRAM chip features greater than 1.9 billion transistors operating at 3.8GHz. Intel is on track for production readiness in Q4 2009.

NXP Announces New, Single Chip LCD TV Platform

On 12/04/08, NXP Semiconductor announced their new, single-chip LCD TV platform, the NXP TV550.  This is the first TV platform manufactured in 45nm CMOS low-power process technology. Engineering samples scheduled for 1Q09.

The TV550 platform incorporates the PNX85500 processor and integrates NXP’s proprietary Motion Accurate Picture Processing (MAPP2) technology. This single SoC handles all the new High Definition audio codecs like Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio along with the more familiar codecs from Dolby and DTS. The part also handles the video codecs for the decompression necessary to process MPEG2 and MPEG4 encoded signals.  In addition, one of the target markets for the chip are those LCD TVs that are looking to increase their frame rates to 100 Hz (Europe) and 120Hz (North America) for better rendering of fast moving video action sequences. Consideration was also given to the current trend towards LCD backlighting in LCD TVs with sectional backlight dimming enabled.

Since this is a platform, other functions can be added as more features are required.

Semico: DRAM and NAND Flash: Doing the Memory Tango

Why is it critical to look at DRAM and NAND memories together?  As the target application for memory technologies continues to shift away from desktop personal computing, the value propositions of memory technologies have also changed.  In this report, we examine the strategic issues of the total memory market where manufacturing and technology decisions decide the profitability and health of participants and end use implementers.

Semicon West 2008

Several Semico analysts attended Semicon West this year.  Although the forecast for 2008 capital expenditures is for less spending, there was still a lot to get excited about at the show this year. 

We talked to a few companies with innovative improvements to image sensor technology.  Sarnoff has developed a back illumination technology that utilizes SOI wafers.  Tessera continues to find ways to improve optics with their wafer level camera technology that allows for high performance imaging combined with innovative packaging to produce an ultra thin camera module.  Digital camera technology will continue to grow in cell phone and standalone camera applications but it will also increase in numbers for industrial, automotive and medical applications as well.  These improvements from Sarnoff and Tessera will enhance and broaden image sensor applications.    

Novellus is expecting to win big as the memory manufacturers go into high production with their mega-fabs which can process 140,000 to 160,000 wafers per month compared to the 40,000 or 50,000 wafers per month that an average logic fab is capable of processing.  Even at 1 or 2 copper layers, that’s a lot of material and processing steps which translates into more equipment.  I have to keep reminding myself that these are also 300mm wafers!  If unit demand continues to grow at 10% CAGR, wafer demand could double!  Who says we don’t need 450mm wafers?

NAND Market – Where’s Apple?

So far in 2008, the NAND market has not experienced the “Apple effect” seen in previous years, despite the upcoming 3G iPhone (with up to 16GB of storage) and the SSD option for the MacBook Air.  Consumer confidence is low due to the repercussions of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and consumer disposable income is hampered by rising prices at the gas pumps.  These factors are having a dampening effect on consumer electronics sales.  Despite slower growth in NAND sales this year, the market can still be characterized as a growth market.  NAND unit shipments are expected to reach 3,528.5 million units in 2008 compared to 2,508.6 in 2007.  NAND revenues will grow 13% in 2008 compared to 25% in 2007. 

Rambus Asks for Ban on U.S. Sales of Hynix Chips

The legal issues between Rambus and the DRAM manufacturers continues to move through the US court systems. Rambus won a patent infringement lawsuit three months ago against Hynix for the sale of Jedec-standard DRAM.  While Hynix is the first DRAM manufacturer to be addressed, Rambus is also pursuing patent infringement claims against most of the remaining DRAM manufacturers. Yesterday Rambus requested a court-mandated license from Hynix for past shipments of Jedec-standard DRAM sold from 2001 to 2007 and permanent injunction to stop Hynix from shipping DRAM into the US during the appeal process of the patent-infringement verdict.


Even if the courts decide to deny or delay this injunction requested by Rambus, the possibility of other disruptions to the US supply of Jedec-standard DRAM still looms on the horizon as other DRAM manufacturers take their turn in the box. 


Using Software to Speed up the Internet

There is no such thing as too thin, too rich, too much horsepower or too much data transmission speed.  That is why semiconductor companies spend millions of dollars developing faster ICs, network processors and countless other ways of increasing transmission speed.  But, there might be a less expensive alternative. 


On June 23, 2008 NetExÒ, announced its HyperPipe™ bandwidth optimization technology enabling ISPs, phone and cable providers to deliver next-generation wideband services over existing broadband IP networks.  HyperPipe™ is a software solution that accelerates traffic on an IP network.  The software intercepts TCP packets, which are then aggregated and sent over the network optimized to achieve greater throughput.  HyperPipe protects data packets from variations in line quality conditions that cause latency, jitter, and bit errors that constrain the speed of typical IP networks by requiring packets to be re-sent.