Archive for the ‘ Fabless ’ Category

Apple reportedly to hand processor orders to TSMC

Apple is reportedly looking to outsource the production of its A4 processor as well as the next-generation ARM Cortex-A9-based A5 processor to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), according to industry sources. The Apple A4 processor is currently exclusively produced by Samsung Electronics, and the previous S5PC100 used in the iPhone 3GS was also developed and manufactured by the Korean company.

TSMC declined to comment on the report.

With Samsung now competing directly with Apple with its own smartphones and tablet PC, Apple is reportedly concerned about leakage of its processor technology to a major rival in the end-use market.

In fact, Apple already began handling some A4 orders to TSMC in 2010 when Samsung’s capacity was unable to fulfill strong demand of Apple devices, the sources said, adding that the move at the time was perhaps to test TSMC’s capability.

According to Digitimes Research, the iPad 2 will support an enhanced version of the A4 and the A5 will power the iPhone 5. TSMC will initially produce the improved A4, and could likely become the exclusive manufacturer of the A5.

via Apple reportedly to hand processor orders to TSMC.


Freescale vs. TI: Base station SoC battle

Freescale vs. TI: Base station SoC battle.

EW YORK – In response to various network operators’ diverging demands for small to large cells, Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments are unveiling this week at the Mobile World Congress their respective visions for a “base station on a chip.” Freescale is rolling out a scalable, multimode wireless base station processor family, dubbed QorIQ Qonverge. The new family of products, designed to scale from small cells (Femto and Pico) to large cells (Metro and Macro), share a common architecture consisting of Freescale’s proven multi-core communication processor, multi-core DSPs and baseband accelerators. Freescale’s new baseband SoC is also playing a critical role in lightRadio technology, recently announced by Alcatel-Lucent. LightRadio technology, which Alcatel-Lucent is working on with Hewlett Packard and Freescale, is designed to help create mobile phone wireless base stations for carriers that are said to be “barely bigger than a golf ball.” Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of at Freescale’s networking and multimedia group, said, “Our new baseband SoC is in it.” Texas Instruments, on the other hand, has developed a new multimode wireless base station chip, called TMS320TCI668, delivering “double the LTE performance of any existing 40nm SoC,” according to the company. TI has added hardware accelerators to the company’s recently announced base station SoC, called TCI6616. Both TCI6618 and TCI6616 use TSM320C66x – TI’s new DSP featuring floating point and fixed point math in every core. Facing exponentially increasing data traffic, network operators have been scrambling to find new solutions to their networks. Freescale’s Su bluntly put: “Most operators can’t keep up with data traffic today.” Operators want network solutions that are “multi-mode” and “future proof,” she explained. While the transition to LTE could help, LTEs are still in early stage, said Su, despite a number of trials. If operators are still building out a 3G network, they want that equipment “to be 4G capable,” she said. In explaining the wireless network architecture’s current state of flux, she added: “Femto cells, deemed an ‘interesting solution’ six months ago, are now a part of the solution many operators are looking at.” Network operators want network architecture “optimized for cost, performance and capacity,” she added. Many in the industry agree that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the wireless network architecture of tomorrow. “Everyone is designing their own vision of network architecture right now,” observed Brian Glinsman, general manager of TI’s communications infrastructure business. “Solutions proposed by equipment vendors are colored by their top five customers,” he added. This trend, in turn, influences semiconductor suppliers’ base station SoCs. “Any operator who says they know what client devices will demand in flavors of 802.11, WiMax, LTE, various flavors of 4G…is lying, overly optimistic, or both!” noted Rick Doherty, co-founder and director, at The Envisioneering Group. “So the only sane survival method is build cell systems with agile software radio support until 4G ‘stratifies’ into clear winners… again, driven by the consumer, business and institutional device mix and demand.” TI’s strategy is squarely focused on “spectral efficiency.” The new hardware acceleration integrated in the TCI6618 is responsible for handling the high numbers of bits flowing through base stations, while freeing the programmable DSP cores’ processing power to execute customer differentiation chores like scheduling and multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) antenna processing. TI claims the new TCI6618 enables gains “up to 40 percent spectral efficiency.” By making TCI6618 pin and software compatible with TCI6616, TI offers customers flexibility in designing multimode base stations supporting all 2G, 3G and 4G standards, according to the company. TI’s TCI6618 base-station SoC does not come with a RISC processor — necessary for network processing. The company won’t be detailing such a base station SoC complete with a cluster of ARM cores until mid-2011. As an interim step, in collaboration with Axcom Technology, TI is offering a new 3G/4G small cell base station platform in the second quarter of 2011. The platform consists of TCI6616 SoC for PHY and Layer 2 processing; C6A8167 Integra DSP+ARM processor for Layer 3 processing; GC5330 transmit/receive processor for digital radio front-end processing; and NaviLink 6.0 solution GPS for clock synchronization. “We are offering such a platform now so that developers can start writing code,” explained Glinsman. In contrast, Freescale’s plan is to start offering a family of base station processors integrated with their proven network processor. Well-established CPU and DSP technology Freescale’s QorIQ Qonverge processors combine on a single chip: multiple Power Architecture cores; StarCore DSPs with MAPLE packet processing acceleration engines; and interconnect fabric. Noting that there will always be waste in a system using discrete components, Su pointed out the efficiency of the QorIQ Qonverge processor, in particular, comes from its multi-core fabric. “We spent a lot of time developing it.” “The key strength of Freescale is that it has both well-established CPU and DSP technology,” noted Joseph Byrne is a senior analyst at The Linley Group. “Nobody else is in the same position.” According to Byrne, “Freescale’s embedded-processor business has been stronger than its DSP business, which creates a particularly good opportunity for the company.” He explained, “Freescale is well-placed to lure OEMs that had been using TI DSPs with Freescale embedded processors, eliminating TI from these designs.” TI, of course, will try to do the reverse but [the company] is not a well-established supplier of embedded processors, he added. Freescale’s Picocells/Enterprise-Femtocells base station SoC In all fairness, the timing for the availability of complete base station SoCs – both from Freescale and TI — may not differ much in the end. Both are aiming at the second half of 2011. But analysts believe Freescale may have an edge. “We think Freescale’s exisitng and new customers will get to the market faster because Freescale offers more tools and endorsed, trusted third party solutions (like performance monitoring) than TI,” said Doherty. “Time to market, flexibility to change designs as market demands (more so on enterprise cell than femto cell) is criucial.” Freescale is seeing fundamental changes in base station design and deployment. Freescale’s Su described the expected proliferation of tiny base stations enabled by Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio technology as akin to cloud-computing. “Instead of racks of servers, we now see a network of desktop connected to cloud,” she said. Similarly, by combining Alcatel-Lucent’s antenna and RF communications with Freescale’s digital baseband unit, “you will soon see a network of small base stations that are the size of a Rubik’s cube,” enabling networks. The Linley Group’s Byrne agreed. “The big-picture is that mobile broadband requires a dense network of base stations, but carrier’s capital expenditure is limited. Thus, some kind of solution that provides density economically is required.” He said that lightRadio looks like the kind of architecture that can do the trick.

Multiple cores power fifth generation of TIs OMAP

Multiple cores power fifth generation of TIs OMAP.

Texas Instruments’ believes its  OMAP 5 platform is expected to change the concept of ‘mobile’ by driving disruptive mobile computing experiences providing stereoscopic 3D, gesture recognition and computational photography based on multi-core processing, including ARM Cortex-A15 MPCore processors

The 28 nanometer OMAP 5 applications processors carry on the OMAP family tradition of delivering increases in performance and functionality, while lowering power consumption compared to their predecessors. They offer up to 3x processing performance and five-fold 3D graphics improvement, provide a nearly 60 percent average power reduction compared to a sample user experience on the OMAP 4 platform.

The OMAP 5 platform’s software is designed for maximum reuse to ease migration from the OMAP 4 platform.

The OMAP 5 processor uses two ARM Cortex-A15 MPCores capable of speeds of up to 2 GHz per core in the OMAP 5 implementation. The 50 percent boost in performance over the Cortex-A9 core (at the same clock frequency), is combined with up to 8GB of dynamic memory access and hardware virtualization support.

In addition to the two Cortex-A15 cores, the OMAP 5 processor includes individual, dedicated engines for: video, imaging and vision, DSP, 3D graphics, 2D graphics, display and security.

The processor also includes two ARM Cortex-M4 processors for offloading real-time processing from the Cortex-A15 cores to improve low-level control and responsiveness of mobile devices.

The OMAP 5 processor can support up to four cameras in parallel, as well as record and play back S3D video in 1080p quality, and perform real-time conversion of 2D content to S3D at 1080p resolution. The processor can also deliver advanced short- and long-range gesturing applications, as well as full-body and multi-body interactive gestures, utilizing either 2D or S3D cameras.

The OMAP 5 processor, coupled with a TI DLP Pico projector and a camera, can also enable interactive projection where the user can actually “touch and drag” projected images on both a table top or wall.

Additionally, the OMAP 5 processor can interface with and leverage a variety of sensor technologies to enable touchless sensing, such as proximity sensing, capacitive sensing and ultrasonic sensing.

The OMAP 5 processor includes hardware and software resources that enable the development and deployment of computational algorithms to improve picture and video quality from  built-in cameras. These provide camera stabilization, motion blur reduction, noise reduction, high dynamic range and face-based processing.

The latest processor goes a step further by using the same OMAP 5 hardware resources with vision algorithms to extract features and data from the picture, in order to implement applications such as face recognition, object recognition and text recognition. These vision capabilities can also be used as the foundation for augmented reality applications.

TI’s OMAP 5 platform is expected to sample in the second half of 2011, with devices on the market in the second half of 2012. The OMAP5430 processor is offered in a 14x14mm package-on-package  with LPDDR2 memory support.  The OMAP5432 processor is offered in a 17x17mm BGA package with DDR3/DDR3L memory support.  These products are intended for high-volume mobile OEMs and ODMs and are not available through distributors.

TI also plans to develop compatible ARM Cortex-A15 processor-based solutions for broader market applications across TI’s product portfolio.

10 semiconductor themes for 2011

10 semiconductor themes for 2011.

What’s in store for 2011? Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, has provided his 10 predictions-or themes-for 2011 (and beyond). SAN JOSE, Calif. – What’s in store for 2011? Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, has listed his 10  themes for ICs in 2011 (and beyond):

1. The Fourth Wave of Computing

”In our view, the era of the mobile Internet, thin client or ultra mobile computer is upon us. It is the 4th wave of computing. In our view, in the 4th wave, the critical capability is not the processor capability, but rather connectivity or bandwidth as well as very low power. The iPad, iPhone, and Android operating system are all early winners in this new era, leading the 4th wave.”

2. ASIC to PLD Conversion

”ASICs and ASSPs are being replaced by programmable logic devices, PLDs. With each successive node the cost of a design goes up. The cost of a 45-nm SOC chip design is estimated to be roughly $80 million and a 32-nm SOC is $130 million. We estimate that the addressable market of these chips needs to be roughly $400 million and $650 million to make a reasonable return assuming a 50 percent gross margin.”

3. The Super Cycle and Increased Capital Intensity

”Over the last 10 to 15 years more and more companies have gone fabless or fab lite as fewer and fewer companies have been able to afford the cost of a leading edge 300-mm manufacturing plant. The question is who is going to pay for the increasing capital intensity. Clearly the dominant manufacturers are going to be spending including: Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, TSMC and Global Foundries.

While we haven’t heard of any discussions, we think it is only a matter of time before companies like TSMC and UMC start asking customers to share the burden. We think this will be the source of capital that takes capital intensity back to a cycle high in the mid 20 percent range.”

4. Lithography’s Increasing Share of Wallet

”Lithography is increasing as a percentage of fab spending. The last generation ASML lithography system, the XT 193-nm immersion, cost 30 million euros; the current generation, NXT, cost 40 million euros. The EUV systems are also more expensive than 193-nm immersion tools. The pre-production tools shipping today cost 42 million euros and production tools due to ship in late 2011 will cost 65 to 70 million euros.”

5. The Low Down on the Slow Down of Moore’s Law

”There are only three ways to increase the output of a fab. The first is to scale (shrink) the size of the transistor and other structures on a chip (Moore’s Law), the second is to move to a larger diameter wafer and the third is increased the number of wafers processed. For all but Intel and Samsung, Moore’s Law is slowing and the transition to next generation process technology is grinding to a halt.”

6. Increasing Levels of Innovation and Killer Applications

”There is now increasing visibility into new drivers of semiconductor demand. It has been a long time since the semiconductor industry benefited from a killer app that could move the needle in terms of growth. We think there are several demand drivers now occurring. These include: the 4th wave of computing or the ultra mobile era dominated by smart phones and tablets, the second is the proliferation of internet connectivity to an increasing array of devices (ubiquitous connectivity, Ubiquinet as mere ‘internet’ is no longer appropriate), the need to upgrade the communication infrastructure to support an increasing plethora of devices, the increased use of video over IP and the need to support the mobile internet. We believe these trends are driving an upgrade cycle for electronics as well as increasing semiconductor content in existing devices and a crop of new devices.”

7. Increased Investment in Communication Infrastructure

”We are seeing a shift to data from voice in mobile phones, increased delivery of video over the internet IP and the emergence of cloud computing. This is driving a need for infrastructure upgrades.”

8. Home Networking

”Bandwidth to the home is increasing at a rate of 40 percent per year. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) is a significant driver of this growth in developed economies and video over IP is driving the growth of FTTH. The need to support HD video on an increasing number of devices and more connected devices in the home are driving home networking. The solutions will be both WiFi and networks over existing wires, in our view.”

9. LED Lighting

”The growth of LED lighting is being driven by increasing global regulation banning the incandescent bulb, which should accelerate over the next 2 years. Currently the EU prohibits the sale of 75W and 100W bulbs and moves to an outright ban on all incandescent bulbs by Dec 2012. The US begins a similar tiered restriction beginning in 2012 with the 100W bulb and all bulbs banned by 2014. While initially much of the incandescent bulb replacement will be CCFL we think over time LED will be the solution of choice as they provide a better quality light and the cost comes down as volumes increase. We estimate that the number of general purpose light bulbs has been doubling every year to an estimated 200 million this year and 400 million units next year.”

10. The Analog Bifurcation and Over Investment

”During the lost decade of the 00s, the analog semiconductor market saw renewed interest and likely too much investment. While analog is rich with niche market opportunities, we think it will be harder for companies in the analog market going forward. In analog like other chip markets, gross margin is inversely proportional to volume. That is to say the higher the volume the lower the gross margin and the lower the volume the higher the gross margin.

Moreover, we would expect TI to use its new 300mm fab to drive market share in very higher volume standard analog markets as well. While not all analog companies will be impacted, those whose products and business models overlap with TI will come under pressure.”

ATIC takes control of GlobalFoundries

ATIC takes control of GlobalFoundries.

As part of a new and complex transaction, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) has reduced its stake in GlobalFoundries Inc. from about 30 percent to 14 percent. SAN JOSE, Calif. – As part of a new and complex transaction, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) has reduced its stake in GlobalFoundries Inc. from about 30 percent to 14 percent.

In the deal, Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC) now owns 86 percent of GlobalFoundries, a U.S.-based silicon foundry vendor. Previously, ATIC owned 70 percent. The ATIC is a specialist investment company created by the Government of Abu Dhabi to focus on investments in the advanced technology sector. ATIC’s sole shareholder is the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

In 2009, the chip-manufacturing arm from AMD was spun off into a new foundry company. The foundry spinoff, GlobalFoundries, had been a joint venture between AMD and Abu Dhabi’s ATIC. At the time, AMD moved to become a fabless chip maker.

ATIC had planned to boost its stake in GlobalFoundries from about 68 percent to 70 percent. Over time, ATIC is supposed to take the entire stake in GlobalFoundries from AMD. In September, ATIC agreed to acquire Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. for a total of $3.9 billion. Chartered has been folded into GlobalFoundries.

Then, on Dec. 27, 2010, ATIC said that it contributed all of the outstanding ordinary shares of GlobalFoundries Singapore Pte. Ltd., a private limited company organized in Singapore (formerly Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd.) to Globalfoundries Inc., in exchange for 2,808,981 newly issued shares of GF Class A Preferred Shares.

As of the closing of the contribution, AMD’s ownership of GlobalFoundries is now approximately 14 percent. AMD’s processors are made on a foundry basis by  GlobalFoundries. Some of AMD’s chips are made by TSMC and others. By reducing its stake in GlobalFoundries, AMD is free to expand its ties with TSMC and others.

Despite a sudden and disturbing lull in the IC market, GlobalFoundries is moving full speed ahead with its aggressive silicon foundry strategy. As part of those efforts, the company recently disclosed plans to devise a 20-nm process and rolled out a new, high-end 28-nm offering. It also announced an intellectual property (IP) deal with ARM Holdings plc and said it is developing technology to enable 3-D chips based on through-silicon-vias (TSVs).

ATMC plans to spend up to $7 billion to build a semiconductor fab in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates,

Integration is winning in smartphone processors

Integration is winning in smartphone processors.


Peter Clarke

10/15/2010 5:56 AM EDT

LONDON – Baseband-integrated applications processors are gaining market share in the smartphone market, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

The consultancy has said that baseband-integrated applications processors accounted for 28 percent of the total applications processors shipped to smartphones in 2007 and was up to 70 percent in unit terms in the first half of 2010.

The two different partitions cover two different market approaches: baseband-integrated applications processors serve a broad market with a cost competitive solution while stand-alone applications processors tend to serve high-performance devices with support for the latest features. This is because software and its supporting application processors can develop faster than broadband modem requirements.

Baseband integration can result in performance penalties and reduce the flexibility of an applications processor, tying it to a particular air interface. However, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson are responding to this challenge and attempting to provide leading-edge performance in baseband-integrated chips.

“Qualcomm is driving the baseband-integrated applications processor market and is also closing the performance gap against stand-alone vendors such as Texas Instruments, Nvidia and Samsung,” said analyst Sravan Kundojjala in a statement. “By our estimates, Qualcomm’s smartphone applications processor unit shipment share increased from just 3 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in first half 2010.”

Stuart Robinson, Director of the Handset Component technologies service, said that smartphone OEMs are also divided on this issue with Nokia, RIM and HTC prefering integration while Apple, Samsung and Motorola prefer to use stand-alone applications processors.

Qualcomm’s Not a Shoe-In at Apple – TheStreet

Qualcomm’s Not a Shoe-In at Apple – TheStreet.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Qualcomm (QCOM) is in the running for a slot in the next Apple(AAPL) iPhone, but reports of a victory could be greatly exaggerated.

Apple appears to be lining up its field of parts suppliers for the iPhone 5 due out next year, and Qualcomm may be in the mix. A report by Taipei’s Economic Daily News Thursday cited by AppleInsider suggests that Qualcomm may provide the so-called baseband or wireless communications chips for the iPhone 5 and a new version of the iPad.

The reports helped send Qualcomm shares up 2.5% to $45.44 and knocked down chip shop Cirrus Logic(CRUS) 8% in Thursday morning trading.

While it’s no doubt certain that Qualcomm is among the field of designated suppliers for the upcoming LTE 4G version of the iPhone, it’s very likely that the primary vendor has yet to be chosen, say analysts familiar with Apple’s bake-off contests.

Infineon’s(IFX) wireless unit, which agreed to be acquired by Intel(INTC) a month ago, is the incumbent chip supplier to Apple’s iPhone and a leading candidate for the 4G job.

Also vying for the business is ST Ericsson, a 4G chip-making joint-venture between STMicro(STM) and Ericsson(ERIC).

If true to its track record, Apple will have a demanding list of feature requirements and prices to narrow the field to one primary vendor, say analysts.

The problem for Qualcomm is political.

The San Diego chip giant has been a key supplier to Motorola(MOT) and HTC for Google(GOOG) Android devices that compete against the iPhone.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor is also expected to be in some of Microsoft’s(MSFT) Windows Phone 7 devices coming next month, putting it squarely in the wrong camp.

The favorites in this race are Infineon and perhaps more attractively ST Ericsson, which is expected to be very eager to gain the iPhone design win and the primary supplier role, say analysts.

So while Qualcomm is certainly in the field, it’s doubtful to be the outstanding winner in Apple’s eye.