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

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RF Integration: Getting It All Together

The holy grail in wireless ICs is a cost-effective one chip solution.  The challenge has been the integration of all digital and analog functions, including RF, on a single SoC.  To date, this has only been accomplished for relatively low-power, short-range networks.  As the range increases, the amount of transmission power required also increases, requiring separate RF power components (Power Amplifiers, RF Switches and RF Filters).  This determines the level of integration that can be achieved.  Today, most wireless solutions utilize separate RF components to provide the transmission power required.  But things are changing. 


Over the next five years, unit shipments for wireless semiconductors for PANs, LANs and WANs will increase at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 20%, much higher than the CAGR for total semiconductor shipments.  According to Semico Research Corp. there will be key segments such as WiMAX that will experience over 90% CAGR.  That growth prospect is attracting new players who are hoping to get a piece of the action with innovative solutions.  These players include large, established manufacturers as well as small, startups. 


DDR3 and the Rambus Tipping Point

An Amicus Brief was filed by three major OEMs this week in the ongoing legal activities between Rambus and the memory manufacturers.  What would concern these OEM about events that occurred almost 10 years ago?

Semico has neither the legal expertise nor the desire to comment on these ongoing cases.  However some aspects of the settlements could come to a conclusion by the end of this year.  We can comment on the potential impact on the memory supply and demand equilibrium.

Legal issues related to this long-running conflict have occasionally burst into flame and then died down in the intervening years.  Most importantly, no clear path to resolution has yet been suggested that would not place a considerable burden on some of the participating parties. One possible outcome is some level of restriction against unlicensed memory manufacturers shipping JEDEC-standard DDR memory products within the US.  Another is penalties against unlicensed memory manufacturers who had shipped JEDEC -standard SDRAM and DDR memory into the US in the past.

Feeding the Beast: Servers Consume High Density DRAM Modules

This report focuses on DRAM modules in the server segment and some of the memory packaging density that is achieved.  Servers drive the DRAM density and much of the packaging technology.  This is one segment where DRAM is not keeping up with monolithic density demand.  Packaging has become more important in the semiconductor industry as greater functionality is put into smaller spaces.  This is true in the server segment where Blades are very compact but require huge amounts of memory.

Computing’s server segment accounted for 25 percent of the bits shipped in 2007, which will rise to 36 percent of total bits shipped by 2012.  As the server memory size increases, it requires higher density DRAM and DRAM modules.  No longer does the software require memory capacity beyond the product available at the lowest price-per-megabit in the PC segment.  It is now the high-end server segment that demands modules in densities exceeding 4GByte while 1Gbyte is the industry sweet spot. 

The DRAM module market consumes between 83 and 88 percent of the total DRAM bits sold.  The computing segment accounted for about 70 percent of these bits in 2007.  Total server unit growth is projected to have a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9 percent while the average Gigabytes per system will have a CAGR of 48 percent.  This is definitely a segment driving demand as examined in the Semico study. 

MCU Memory: A Flashy Trend?

Even the microcontroller (MCU) market is expanding the use of Flash memory.  The ubiquitous MCU populates end-market products from automobiles to Smart Cards.  The broad applications base and wide range of embedded memory and technology offerings contribute to its steady unit and revenue growth.  Although there is severe pricing pressure on average selling prices, revenue grew 11 percent in 2007 and unit shipments increased by 19 percent.

IC Cards, multipurpose (industrial control and other), automotive and consumer accounted for 90 percent of the units and generated 87 percent of the revenue.  Automotive was the revenue leader with 36 percent and 16 percent of the units.  Clearly, IC cards are quite price sensitive as they accounted for 37 percent of the units and just 14 percent of the revenue.

The 16-bit and 32-bit+ MCU markets have grown large enough that these markets are the driving force for total MCU growth.  These are the key products in high-end consumer products, automotive and industrial control.  Consequently, developments in these markets have a major impact on the MCU market.

SMIC Realigns Their Memory Production

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) recently announced that the company ceases the production of DRAM at the end of April due to falling DRAM prices. SMIC is reportedly switching production from DRAM to Spansion’s MirrorBit NOR flash memory production and has informed chip-making equipment suppliers and customers of its new direction. SMIC had previously contracted to make DRAM for Elpida and Qimonda, with DRAM production accounted for 23.6% of SMICs revenue the fourth quarter of 2007.


SMIC had previously shifted their NVM effort from Saifun to Spansion late in 2007 and has signed a preliminary memorandum of understanding with Spansion that would allow SMIC to enter selected segments of the flash memory market with a license to manufacture and sell 90nm and 65nm Spansion MirrorBit Quad products into the China market. 

Semico Spin

SMIC represents a small percentage of the overall memory production however Semico believes that SMICs activities are worth examination for two critical points. 

Apple and P.A. Semi... Where Will the Chips Fall

On April 23, 2008 it was learned that Apple will acquire P.A. Semiconductor for $278 million. This has left a great many people wondering what this is all about.

P.A. Semiconductor is a small startup company. The company licensed the PowerPC architecture from IBM. Under this license P.A. Semi is able to develop independently its own PowerPC cores. The first product under this license is a dual core processor, PWRficient PA6T-1682M, running at 2GHz. It is a 64-bit super scalar design manufactured on an advanced 65nm process. According to P.A. Semi, the entire compute platform is integrated onto a single chip. The company claims that it can achieve a typical power consumption of 5 to 13 Watts.

The target markets for PA6T are high end networking and communications. Production began near the end of 2007. P.A. Semi apparently did a good job on design wins, especially with the DoD. There are news reports that the DoD has concerns over Apple’s acquisition of P.A. Semi.

Tessera Announces A Smaller, Lower Cost, More Reliable Wafer-Level Digital Camera Module Packaging Technology

On Tuesday, March 18 at Image Sensors Europe Tessera Technologies Inc. announced the availability for licensing of its SHELLCASE® MVP wafer-level packaging technology for digital camera modules.  This solution promises to significantly reduce the cost of camera, modules for cell phones, digital cameras, PDAs, Portable Media Payers, laptop PCs and countless other devices, including the numerous sensors used in automobiles.  In addition, it will improve yields and increase reliability. 

The SHELLCASE technology encapsulates an image sensor in a polymeric glass-silicon structure while the image sensor is still on the wafer.  This can be accomplished using established manufacturing technology.  The entire structure can then be singulated to provide an extremely thin complete camera module with an X/Y dimension identical to the original silicon chip.  It can then be stacked in a 3D structure with DSPs or memory chips as desired.


Semico Spin

Semico: Semiconductor Intellectual Property: Continuing on the Path to Growth

The 3rd Party Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) market has continued to increase its importance to designers for System-on-a-Chip (SoC) through its ability to help reduce the design time and overall costs for these complex silicon solutions.  The growth experienced in 2007 will continue during the next five years as the 2007 -2012 CAGR is forecasted to exceed 18% and the SIP market to surpass $5,500 million in 2012.

One way to segment SIP is into 3rd Party Developed IP and Internally Developed IP.  “When we look at SIP as a function of total silicon costs, 3rd Party Developed IP has decreased dramatically and now represents less than 5% while Internally Developed IP is greater than 25% of silicon costs,” states Rich Wawrzyniak, Senior Analyst at Semico Research.  “To combat some of the Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) costs associated with SIP, it is likely the market will see IDMs start to license their own internally developed, proprietary SIP to 3rd parties who are not direct customers of their silicon as a means of offsetting these new costs.”

Taiwanese and Korean Memory Capacity

An interesting article appeared in the Korean Times this week that expressed concern over the continuing investments of Taiwanese memory manufacturers. As stated in the article, “While South Korean chip giants such as Samsung Electronics and Hynix Semiconductor have recently clashed over the issue of a ``technology transfer’’ to overseas rivals, Taiwan-based computer chipmakers are forming a united front to inject massive amounts of cash into new next-generation plants…Experts say their ongoing ``consolidation’’ moves will accelerate further as Taiwanese manufacturers, South Korea’s biggest competitors in memory chips, seek to sharpen their technology competitiveness…The South Korean government needs to draw a new blueprint for IT policies to help boost the competitiveness of local chipmakers,’’ the Samsung Economic Research Institute said in a report.”

The article continues, ``Even though DRAM prices plunge, the Taiwanese firms expect demand to remain steady. That’s why they decided to invest,’’ the source added. Experts say Taiwanese chipmakers have gained cost competitiveness by utilizing low-cost manufacturing bases, vertical integration and mass production systems.”

Atom: A Building Block For Intel

The much anticipated MPU designs from Intel, Silverthorne and Diamondville, have been announced by Intel. The MPU will be marketed under the brand name Atom. The MPU is a single core 80x86. Atom is a new low-power microarchitecture. It represents a new family of processors designed from the ground-up for low-power and performance and is manufactured on 45nm process.

Intel is targeting a different class of processing from its mainstream processors, Core 2 Duo. Atom and its accompanying chipset are relatively lower performance than Core 2 Duo but power consumption is considerably lower as well. Atom is not intended to compete with Core 2 Duo.

You may have heard the term Mobile Internet Device (MID) from Intel. This is not a new market. It is a new marketing term Intel has coined. It encompasses many of the current mobile devices on the market. If it is portable, has wireless communication, computing features and fits in your pocket it is an MID. This would include smart phones, the iphone, Personal Media Players (PMP) with wireless, GPS with internet connectivity, etc. The screen size would be 4.5 in to 6 in. A yet to emerge ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) has a screen size of 5 in to 7 in. Most would run Linux, but are also capable of running Windows. Essentially this is the market for convergence devices we have been discussing for several years. Intel will begin shipping Intel Atom processors soon, with MIDs to start appearing in Q2 2008.