Tony Massimini is Semico's Chief of Technology.  See his bio here.

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Tony Massimini's blog

New Strategy at AMD?

There have been several key changes at the senior level at AMD. On Feb. 8, 2011, two senior employees stepped down. Bob Rivet, vice president and chief operations and administrative officer, and Marty Seyer, senior vice president of corporate strategy, have left the company. One month ago CEO Dirk Meyer was replaced by interim CEO Thomas Seifert. The Board of Directors has yet to name a permanent replacement for Meyer.

This appears to signal a change in strategy at AMD. The company has fallen behind Intel on the PC and enterprise fronts. But more significantly AMD had no real plan for pursuing the ultra-mobile space like Intel has, in particular netbooks, tablet PCs, and smartphones.

Intel has been focused heavily in these areas with Atom. Even if Intel gains only a small share of the smartphone market from the ARM-based processors, it is such a huge market that it is worth the effort. Intel is leveraging off of its netbook success with Atom. The bill of materials for a tablet PC is not that different. Intel has established a group specifically for netbook and tablet PCs. It is also leveraging off of the netbook with future Atom SoCs for embedded control applications. These are new markets that offer Intel additional growth over the traditional computing market.

Intel Cougar Point Chipset Delayed But Not As Bad As It Looks

Today Intel announced there was a design flaw with its Cougar Point chipset. This is the series 6 chipset for the next generation Sandy Bridge based desktop and notebook PCs. The Sandy Bridge MPUs are not affected at all.

The problem was discovered in an Intel reliability lab. While testing for accelerated life time performance, it was discovered that one transistor in the SATA interface had a probability of failure within 2 to 3 years. This is the port for the slower and older SATA devices. Even if most customers may never use this port, Intel still decided to pull the chipset.

The good news is that the fix is fairly simple and is in the next to last metal layer. All wafers that have been processed up to this point are still okay. The Cougar Point chipset is manufactured on 65nm. Most of Intel’s MPUs are run on 32nm. Intel has a large amount of capacity at 65nm. Speaking with an Intel spokesperson, the company will be able to deliver the revised chipsets in a matter of weeks.

The SATA ports in question are ports 2 through 5. If a system has been delivered in which ports 2 through 5 have not been activated, this is not a problem and the system is not subject to recall. In the meantime, all other Cougar Point chipsets that have already been delivered to customers will be returned. The rollout for the Sandy Bridge systems by OEMs will be delayed about one month. These systems are likely to ship in April 2011.

The Nissan Leaf, Getting Charged Up For The Future!

Automotive is an important market for the semiconductor industry.  In turn the semiconductor industry has enabled car manufacturers to make major improvements in safety and performance.  Even though the number of vehicles manufactured grows by low single digits the amount of electronics per vehicle keeps increasing.  In 2008 and 2009 the automotive industry suffered severe losses, but in 2010 this market has seen a strong resurgence.  Semico believes this momentum will drive automotive semiconductor growth for the next few years.

The next stage in the evolution of the automobile is a new energy source – a renewable energy source.  The concern for air pollution and the increasing cost of fossil fuel is driving this.  Both Nissan and Chevrolet have major programs that they are launching in late 2010 and 2011, the Leaf and the Volt, respectively.  The Leaf is all electric plug-in while the Volt is an electric plug-in with additional electric generation from an in car gas powered generator.

On December 4, 2010 I had the opportunity to test drive the Nissan Leaf.  The company has a demonstration tour in the US at this time.  There was an event in Tempe, AZ during an arts festival.  My wife and I had reservations, but there was also a steady stream of people walking in to test drive.

Intel Developers Forum 2010 in Review

IDF ended last week and the message as always is that Intel has the technology for the future today.  The company continues to deliver ever increasing performance and features at lower price and that it delivers on its promises on time. Intel is also trying to expand its reach beyond the traditional computing market.  Computing is still the cash cow for the company, so it still garners a lot of attention.  But Intel needs to broaden its markets in order to continue growing.  The company showed off technology that covers the gamut from high end computing (data centers and cloud computing) to mass market consumer (smart phones, TV, etc.) and even embedded control. In his keynote speech to kick off the event, Intel CEO Paul Otellini presented the “three pillars of computing” for Intel.

The latest news from IDF about Tablet PCs and Netbooks

September 14, 2010

Right now I am sitting in a technical session, “How to Build an Intel Atom Processor Based Tablet PC or Innovative Netbook”.  Looking around the Intel Developer’s Forum it is clear that netbooks are still a strong and viable market for Intel.  I just wrote a Semico Spin challenging the view that tablet PCs will eat up the market for netbooks.

At IDF Intel is actively marketing solutions for both netbooks and tablet PCs.  There are demos from OEMs for both featuring Intel Atom of course. Many Atom tablet PCs will ship in 4Q 2010.  This technical session clearly shows that internally there is little difference between the two products.

The differences come down to touch screen, keyboard, and OS.  One can also say that the applications that end users want to run will be different.  When the subject of tablet PC vs netbook first came up my immediate response was that over time the form factors would evolve and likely merge to form a hybrid design.  At that point I would likely dovetail the two separate lines in my forecast into one and call it “ultra-portable.”

Will Tablet PCs Eat Up The Market?

It has been reported lately that tablet PCs, namely Apple iPads, are having a significant impact on notebooks and netbooks.  Are the tablet PCs cannibalizing netbooks and low-cost notebooks?

It should be noted that what is cited is consumer sales in the US.  Let us keep in mind that the US represents less than half of the world wide PC market and that consumer is about half of the US market.  Late last year it was anticipated that PC sales would be driven mainly by corporate sales in 2010.  Many companies had delayed PC upgrades in 2009 due to economic conditions.

We heard the same thing about netbooks cannibalizing notebooks when they first emerged.  Netbooks did cannibalize some of the low end of the notebook market, but it also established a new market segment which added new users to the total computing market.
Semico’s forecast for netbooks from a year ago already showed that netbook growth would slow down in 2010 (even before the iPad emerged) just because it would become mainstream very quickly.

Total iPad shipments are 3.27 million at the end of 2Q 2010.  Assuming additional growth each quarter and the introduction of competitors in 4Q 2010, the tablet PC is expected to reach 12 million units in 2010, Semico's forecast.  Netbooks will reach 38.5 million, so tablet PCs will be less than 1/3 the size of netbooks.  Notebooks are projected to hit 175 million in 2010.

Building up the Communications Infrastructure to Keep Pace with Consumer Demand

All of the interesting gizmos get the attention of the mainstream media and even the industry press.  The various smart phones, IPTV, iPads and other devices that connect to the internet, especially via wireless, generate a great deal of excitement and sales.

However, these devices need an infrastructure to support them. As more devices come into use and the bandwidth demand increases to support advanced apps, the service providers are under pressure.  They need to deliver quality service at an acceptable price and still make a profit.  The concern over running out of internet addresses for all of these devices has been raised recently.  This is IPv4 which uses 32-bit address.  The industry is moving to IPv6 which uses 128-bits.  However, the deployment for IPv6 is still very low.

In recent weeks two companies have made significant product announcements to address the needs of the communications infrastructure.

In July 2010 NetLogic Microsystems launched the NLX321103A, a three chip set that handles a broad range of packet-processing functions at speeds up to 40Gbits/sec.  This comes out of the acquisition of RMI Corp. (June 2009).  The NLX321103A includes RMI’s 8-core, quad-threaded XLR processor.  This is a MIPS64 based design for which the company holds an architectural license.  NetLogic’s solution will enable platforms, such as mobile infrastructure, to reduce the bill of materials (BOM) and increase performance.  It also supports IPv6.

Apple iPad in big demand, can Apple keep up?

Apple reported in its last financial results that as of June 26, 2010 it has shipped 3.27 million iPads.  This is the first quarter of availability for the iPad.  It is shipping at the rate of about 1 million units per month.  However, keep in mind that there was a large amount of pre-orders prior to its April launch.

The question is can Apple ramp up production to meet demand?  Apple’s Steve Jobs has stated since its launch that demand for iPad has been stronger than expected.  Apple has been rolling out iPad to markets outside the US in select countries at different times rather than an all out world wide blitz.  On May 28 Apple made iPad available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.  On July 23 Apple extended this to Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore.

This steady roll out may help Apple manage its supply issues.  Recently, the supplier of the iPad’s display, LG said that it was unable to keep up with demand.  Apple has signed on Samsung as a second manufacturer.  Flash memory is an important component for iPad.  There has been strong demand for Flash for many devices.  Apple’s iPad has to compete for this supply.

ComicCon 2010: Content is King, 3D Games Coming, but 3D TV Not Ready For Primetime

Frequent readers of the Semico Spin know that I am a fan of ComicCon and attend it in San Diego, CA during my family vacation. This is the seventh year in a row if I remember correctly which we attended. As I say every year, there were more geeks than you can shake a light saber at.

This year I had a small video camera, a Kodak ZI8. I have added video to my annual show report. Links to some of the clips are in this article. You can find these and others on the Semico home page.

For those unfamiliar with ComicCon, it is the largest convention for comic books in the world. However, it covers a great deal more. Science fiction and fantasy TV and movies are heavily represented. These are usually tied in with comics and animation. There is also a strong tie in with video games. For the third straight year, ComicCon was sold out for all four days with attendance of 125,000 each day. It is the largest convention through out the year for the city of San Diego.

Freescale Kinetis Family Connects with ARM MCUs

June 28, 2010

Last week at the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in Orlando, FL, Freescale announced a new MCU product line, Kinetis, based on the ARM Cortex M4 core. Kinetis is scalable low-power and mixed signal design. Freescale is expected to introduce seven new Kinetis MCU families over the course of the next 12 months. There will be over 200 pin, peripheral and software compatible devices.

Freescale integrates mixed signal capabilities in Kinetis in order to target consumer and industrial applications. ARM had developed the Cortex M3 for MCUs. The Cortex M4 was announced by ARM in February 2010. Freescale is a lead partner in the development of the M4. In April 2010, NXP announced future MCUs based on the Cortex M4. Freescale will sample Kinetis in 3Q 2010 with production in 1H 2011.

The Cortex M4 is an extension of the M3. The M4 includes DSP functionality. The Kinetis software will be backwards compatible with M3. Therefore, Freescale decided to jump into ARM MCUs with the M4 rather than put resources into an M3 version.

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