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

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Thoughts on a Digital Life

Microchip Technology Low Sleep Power MCUs

Microchip Technology Inc. is introducing two 8-bit MCU families and one 16-bit family.  According to Microchip, these MCUs provide the world’s lowest sleep power, even lower than the already low sleep power figures for its existing nanoWatt XLP 8-bit and 16-bit MCU families.  The new MCUs can operate in a deep sleep mode using down to 20nA of current.  This deep sleep mode has been achieved by process improvements and by intelligently shutting down all functions that customers have indicated are not essential, while maintaining flexible wake sources that customers have indicated are essential:  a watchdog timer, a real time clock and calendar, a brown-out reset and others.  The watchdog timer operates at currents down to 400nA.  The real-time clock and calendar operates at currents down to 500nA. 

The new families of MCUs are ideal for battery-powered applications such as smoke detectors, utility meters or medical monitors where devices are queried from time to time for values with sleep time between queries.  The low power required in the deep sleep mode can extend battery life significantly.

Texas Instruments Takes a Shine to Luminary Micro.

On May 14, 2009 Texas Instruments announced it had acquired Luminary Micro, the leading supplier of ARM Cortex-M3 based microcontrollers.  The Stellaris family of Cortex-M3 MCUs will be added to TI’s product portfolio.

The entire Luminary Micro team in Austin, TX is joining TI.  The Stellaris family will become a brand name within TI.  The tools and support developed by Luminary Micro, such as StellarisWare, will be incorporated into TI’s programs.

Semico Spin

TI’s acquisition of Luminary Micro allows the company to leap frog its MCU roadmap.
The company is the largest supplier of ARM based products across several product types - MCUs, DSPs, applications processors and cell phone baseband chips.  ARM is also the fastest growing architecture in the 32-bit MCU segment.

TI has been shipping ARM 7 based MCUs (TMS470) for several years.  It did announce a Cortex R4 (TMS570) a few years ago.  However, this only began shipping in late 2008.  The TI ARM MCU roadmap has appeared stagnant for the last couple of years.  The Luminary acquisition changes this and puts TI back on the ARM MCU fast track.

Intel and TSMC Split the Atom

March 2, 2009:  Today Intel and TSMC made a major announcement.  The companies have issued a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on addressing technology platform, intellectual property (IP) infrastructure, and System-on-Chip (SoC) solutions.  Essentially, Intel is licensing the Atom core to customers who will be able to customize a design and have it manufactured by TSMC.

Intel is doing this in order to expand the potential market for the Atom architecture, which is a derivative of the 80x86.  The agreement with TSMC allows IP to be integrated around the Atom core.  This is IP that Intel does not have access to for whatever reason.  Both OEMs and other semiconductor companies may be customers, but no companies were identified at this time.

The primary market segments that are targeted are mobile internet devices (MIDs), smart-phones, netbooks, nettops, and AC-powered consumer electronics device.  These are the same markets Intel is addressing with its current Atom products and roadmap.  The company said the agreement with TSMC does not change any of its plans for its standard product line.  The current Atom product line will continue to be manufactured in-house by Intel; this is not a second sourcing agreement.  Intel will maintain control of which companies will be allowed to license Atom under this agreement. 

ComicCon 2008: Content is King, and Gamers Still Love Their Big Boxes

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 fifth 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.

 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 first time in its history 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.

ComicCon 2008

Intel Inside A New BOX

During the week of June 16th, 2008 at the VLSI Technology Symposium, there were a lot of compelling papers presented.  One in particular caught my attention because the findings had a very subtle underlying message.  I’m referring to the Intel paper on floating body cell (FBC).  The floating body cell is not new.  Intel talked about a non-planar floating body cell in 2006.  This year Intel touted a much smaller device using a planar design on SOI.   The device could have 3-4x more bits per area.  The benefit is faster computational rates.   

It is well known that Intel does not currently use SOI for volume production. When considering the use of SOI for microprocessors, Intel has long claimed that its benefits diminished with each technology node shrink.  The floating body cell announcement endorses the use of SOI but of course leaves a few openings for Intel to continue to walk a fine line around SOI.  The buried oxide (BOX) thickness in Intel’s device is only 10nm compared to >100nm for many SOI uses.  Intel feels that this technology is suitable for the 15nm node and beyond.  IBM and ISS both have an SOI memory technology which they’ve shown as beneficial at 45nm and 32nm process technology.