Friday, October 31, 2008

My blog's been nominated by Electronics Weekly!

It was indeed a pleasant surprise to receive an email from Electronics Weekly, yesterday evening, informing me that my blog was recently shortlisted/nominated in the 2008 Blog Awards by a reader of!

All of the nominated blogs have apparently been considered by the panel of judges at The email said, "I am delighted to inform you that you have made the shortlist in the Best Electronics Hardware Blog category."

The list can be seen on Electronics Weekly's ( website!

Wow! I must add that here that there are such great blogs and bloggers in that list that I went dizzy for a few minutes!

I never expected my blog to reach this kind of appeal or level! Nor do I think I have that kind of traffic, as this blog has more to do with serious stuff, rather than talk about gadgets, etc. In fact, somebody once told me last year that no one would bother about a blog on semicon and electronics, nor would I get any traffic!

Well, all of this has never bothered me. I'm here to blog about what I feel is close to my heart! If folks happen to stop by, I am extremely grateful to all of them!

Irrespective of whether I win this award, it is just the right time to thank all of you, dear readers of my blog! Thanks to all of you for choosing to stop by my blog occasionally! I sincerely hope you find the content interesting and appealing enough.

There's lots happening in the semiconductor, electronics and telecom industries, and hope that I am able to add my views on all of those in the coming months.

Thanks again, my dear readers. Please keep those suggestions coming. I will try to live up to your expectations. Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chip forecast at 4-6pc range; financial gloom nicks industry recovery!

Early this year, during the IEF 2008 at Dubai, Future Horizons' CEO, Malcolm Penn, had forecast a 12 percent growth for the global semiconductor industry, and that we were all dealing with an industry in 'deep trauma'!

Soon after, the chip market started showing some signs of recovery and actually started to buzz again. This was in early June. Later, in July, the semiconductor industry numbers started indicating that this may not be a bad year after all! It also came to light that lousy memory numbers were holding back overall market numbers.

With the memory market not showing much signs of recovery, several analysts revised their forecasts in August and September, including Future Horizons. In early September, Penn forecast that the global semiconductor industry would probably grow at 4-8 percent.

However, now, with a global slowdown now in place, Penn says that Future Horizons' January (and July) forecast assumptions, and chip market forecasts, are no longer valid. He adds, "We have not yet had chance to fully crunch the numbers, but at first sight, 2008 now looks set to come in at between 4 and 5 percent, with 2009 in the 4-6 percent range."

This is very unfortunate! Just when it seemed a little while ago that the global semiconductor industry was in some stage of a small recovery, the global financial turmoil has more or less, ended that hope!

Penn cautions: "2009, however, could slip negative, depending on what happens to IC unit growth. At the moment we think this highly unlikely, given the 6.1 percent advanced and developing market GDP growth forecast and the fact there have only been two years of negative IC unit growth in the last 23 years, namely 1985 and 2001, both triggered by a massive inventory build."

Obviously, a slowing world economy is bad news for the chip industry! However, the coupling, he notes, is not as strong as one might be lulled into intuitively believing. There have been seven instances in the last 22 years where the chip market has grown in value during a period of slowing economic growth and two occasions when the market has declined in a period of GDP growth.

"IC units have exhibited three periods when they grew in the face of a GDP decline and five occasions when the units declined despite growth in the world GDP. The economy is, thus, not quite king; inventory, excess capacity and ASPs also play a role," adds Penn in his monthly report.

Underlying good news for chip industry
The underlying good news for the chip industry is that all of the other industry trends are good. Inventories do not seem to be seriously bloated; wafer fab capacity utilization levels are high; capital expenditure is low, and has been now for several quarters; and ASPs are in the midst of a long-term structural recovery phase.

Thus, while 2009 IC unit demand must inevitably slow, this slowing will coincide with an inevitable parallel slowing in new capacity additions, itself the result of a significant 2008 and prior Cap Ex cutbacks. The combined effect ought to be a relatively benign decrease in capacity utilisation rates, helping to cushion the inevitable near-term ASP pressures.

Looking at the near-term ASP trends, ASPs overall have been falling during 2008, but they have been falling much slower than the 2007 rate. This means that ASPs are actually increasing when measured on annualised basis.

Slowdown bound to impact ASPs
According to Penn, the economic (demand) slowdown is bound to negatively impact ASPs. What is more important from a market growth perspective however is not that they are falling but how fast they are compared with the same period last year.

While the ASP recovery trend might wobble next year, the underlying trends still look good, providing the world does not slip into global recession.

The immediate world government policy challenge is to stabilize the global financial markets, while nursing economies through a global downturn and keeping inflation under control. "That is quite a steep challenge (it has never before been called upon to be done); the great danger being, aside from the risk of failing, is a return to vested self-interests and protectionism and the impact that this will have on globalisation and future world growth. There is a real danger this is the precursor of World War 3, with economics as the fire-power," he adds.

Penn advises: "Over a longer horizon, policymakers will be looking to rebuild firm underpinnings for financial intermediation and will be considering how to reduce cyclical tendencies in the global economy and strengthen supply/demand responses in commodity markets.

"The electronics industry would also do well to divorce itself from the financial market's casino driven addiction by starting to plan for its longer-term growth needs not the previous (and now seriously discredited) Wall Street greed/bonus-driven quarterly hysteria."

This has indeed been a topsy-turvy year! Apple's iPhone 3G and now, Google's G1 phone have hit the markets. Intel demonstated its Moorestown platform at the IDF in Taipei, promising great things in 2009! Intel also spoke a lot about mobile Intenet devices (MIDs) and what great things these can do.

However, no one, it seems, is able to point out confidently that the cheer in Christmas spend will be back! Or, how, 2009, will pan out! When will the global semiconductor industry see light at the end of the tunnel?

Friday, October 24, 2008

IDF Taiwan: Desktops with Intel Core i7; IBM, Intel ally on Blade servers

There's more news from IDF, Taiwan, folks! One, Intel is all set to launch high-end desktops powered by the Intel Core i7 processor, next month. This was disclosed by Kirk B. Skaugen, Vice President, Digital Enterprise Group, General Manager, Server Platforms Group, in the Digital Enterprise Keynote: IA = Embedded + Dynamic, during the recently held Intel Developer Forum (IDF).

Intel vPro technology-based business clients: "Piketown" for desktops and "Calpella" for notebooks, will be powered by future Nehalem processors and will provide corporate customers with even more enterprise-focused innovations.

Also, Intel and IBM strengthened their Blade server segment partnership. More of that a bit later!

According to Skaugen, we are in the third stage of the Internet revolution. "The fourth stage is the pervasive Internet. By 2015, there will be 15 billion devices connected to the Internet. The Atom processor has unleashed a new wave of connected devices. However, these devices will need massive infrastructure support as well. Storage will also become a massive area of growth and development," he added.

IBM Switch specs opened to SSI
According to Skaugen, the best infrastructure is built on infrastructure standards. Citing IDC figures, he said that the Blade market growth will be 37 percent CAGR during 2007-11. The Apac market will grow 78 percent.

IBM and Intel also strengthened their alliance in Blade servers. Mark Wiltse, IBM Systems & Technology Group, said that has been created and is focused on solutions collaboration. "We are opening up the IBM Switch specifications to Server Systems Infrastructure (SSI). This will create broader opportunities in Blade. There is broad support for SSI Blade specifications." IBM will extend the BladeCenter switch specification for blade servers to the SSI on a royalty-free basis.

Commenting on the Nehalem, Skaugen added that it is a next generation microarchitecture, using second generation of virtualization, and there is 3X memory bandwidth support as well. Intel's Power Boost technology has also been used on the Nehalem.

Skaugen also provided details of next-generation high-end desktops powered by the Intel Core i7 processor, launching next month. These high-end desktops will provide outstanding performance for gaming and content creation applications.

Calpella and Piketown in the offing
He shared that the 2009 Intel vPro technology-based business clients codenamed "Piketown" for desktops and "Calpella" for notebooks will be powered by future Nehalem processors and will provide corporate customers with even more enterprise-focused innovations.

The upcoming Nehalem microarchitecture spans a range of products. First segments will include the Intel Core i7 processor and a variant designed for the efficient performance server segments codenamed "Nehalem-EP."

A derivative designed for the expandable server market segment ("Nehalem-EX") as well as other desktop and mobile versions ("Havendale," "Lynnfield," "Auburndale" and "Clarksfield") will be in production beginning in the second half of 2009.

Nehalem's integrated power gate
Stephen S. Pawlowski, Intel Senior Fellow, highlighted that the Nehalem has an integrated power gate. "We have got the M9 (metal 9) deposited on the silicon to create low-power resistance." Having power gates means that the idle cores use near zero power.

Several Intel partners also showcased their products at IDF Taiwan. There were 37 new motherboards, while the Nehalem EP was touted as the world's most adaptable server platform. Skaugen said: "it is energy efficient and designed for virtualization. Also, there is investment protection with FlexMigration."

32/64GB SSDs on offer
Intel also introduced its range of SSDs, in 2.5-inch form factors, with 32/64GB storage at the IDF.

Citing SSD benefits, he said these included 6X performance increase, 46X power reduction and 75 percent space reduction.

IDF Taiwan: Father of the Atom an Indian!

Delegates at the Intel Developer Forum, Taiwan were treated to a a rare spectacle when Intel's executive Anand Chandrasekher introduced Belliappa Kuttanna, Senior Principle Engineer, Chief Architect Intel Atom Processor, whom he dubbed as ''The father of Atom,'' during the opening day keynote.

When asked about specific challenges faced while developing the Atom processor, Kuttanna said, "It was pretty challenging to reduce the power levels, while maintaining the balance with Intel architecture." The Atom processor has brought about a fundamental shift in design, and was launched at the Shanghai IDF.

The Atom processor is said to be addressing four market segments: embedded, consumer electronics, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and netbooks and net-tops.

The immersive Web
The digital home has been dubbed as the TV-Internet ecosystem. "Consumers love the rich, social experience of the TV. They can't get it on the Internet," added Chandrasekher. "We are merging the TV and PC worlds seamlessly."

The Intel executive highlighted the CE 3100 media processor, which is said to be the first optimized media processor for consumer electronics, a third-generation SoC. He cited Yahoo's example of the "Cinematic Internet."

Focusing on the embedded segment, Chandrasekher added: "Fifteen billion devices will get connected by 2015. People will interact 24x7 with the Internet. Embedded will be everywhere. Devices will be built for specific applications." Consequently, he felt that mobile Internet would explode. "Social networking today accounts for 27 percent of all traffic on the Internet. Rich media and social networking are driving the immersive Web," he said.

Send emails using voice dictation
Intel's partners took the opportunity to showcase their products and solutions. Eric Montague, vice president, Asia Pacific sales, Nuance, demonstrated two applications: one, sending email using voice dictation easily, even via a Bluetooth headset, and two, doing a voice search on the Web, over an MID.

Montague said: "We are leveraging on the power of the Atom processor on the MID. The Atom is built for mobility." It was no surprise that the IDF saw as many as 38 MID designs, 50 netbook designs, and over 70 net-top designs.

Next, Jonney Shih, chairman, ASUS, demonstrated an ultra-slim netbook. Shih said: "We have been able to achieve a compact design with low power. Besides a lot of our Eee PC products, we will implement the Atom processor into our eTops, eBoxes, etc. Our Eee family of products answers to the future evolution. We are also very excited about Moorestown."

WiMAX and broadband key
A robust broadband infrastructure is key for delivering an ultimate full Internet experience. Intel has been aggressively promoting WiMAX, which has so far had about 407 deployments in 133 countries.

Chandrasekher took time out to introduce Atish Gude, senior vice president, mobile broadband operations, Sprint. For the reference, the entire city of Baltimore is now on XOHM, a Sprint network. Speaking on this particular deployment, Gude said: "The in-building coverage has been fantastic. You know that our network is not complete yet. However, we have not had even one issue with our systems yet! Our highlight has been offering embedded devices."

Chandrasekher wrapped up his session adding that innovation had been his theme. He also highlighted the fact that Intel has been investing in education in over 50 countries. Intel invests over $100 million annually on education.

Intel showcases world's first Moorestown platform at IDF Taiwan

Intel showcased the world's first Moorestown platform at the recently held Intel Developer Forum in Taipei, Taiwan.

In his opening keynote on Day 1 at the IDF: Innovating a New Reality, Anand Chandrasekher, Senior Vice President, General Manager, Ultra Mobility Group, Intel Corp., said: "It is a world in transformation. There have been 3 billion new entrants in the global economy. The resilience of the global economy has been incredibly strong. The Internet has equalized the level-playing field."

He added how technology innovation and strong industry collaboration have driven the digital economy over the past 40 years, and the universal impact that the Internet and mobile Web has had in people's lives.

"Technology innovation is the catalyst for new user experiences, industry collaborations and business models that together will shape the next 40 years," said Chandrasekher. "As the next billion people connect to and experience the Internet, significant opportunities lie in the power of technology and the development of purpose-built devices that deliver more targeted computing needs and experiences."

Asia's growing might
Chandrasekher added: "IT is more important today, than it has ever been over the last 20 years. Asia has been playing a dramatic role." In fact, in 2007, Asia accounted for over 25 percent of Intel's revenue. "Look at the PC companies. ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, etc., are now in the top 10. The number of PCs in China exceeds the US's population. There are more handsets in Taiwan than the people in Taiwan," he highlighted. As for the Internet, Asia is now the fastest growing region online.

The foundation of the Internet is silicon, whose foundation is the Intel architecture (IA). Chandrasekher said: "It is the ecosystem for growth, tomorrow. If you don't have the tools to drive the Internet ecosystem, you have fallen behind." As a comparison, during 1971, the 4004 processor had 2,250 transistors. In 2008, the Core 2 Quad processor has 820 million transistors. It also consumes 93 percent less power. "Process is one piece of the foundation. Architecture is the other," he added.

Welcome Nehalem!
Chandrasekher next focused on the upcoming Nehalem microarchitecture, which, he said, has an extremely energy efficient design. "We have introduced the turbo mode and dynamic power management. We have hyper-threading technology as well." He pointed out that Intel has a 32nm version of the Nehalem, which should be out soon. "There has been a huge performance increase, almost 2X, with Nehalem."

According to him, developers love parallel programming and the Intel IA. "We are giving the Larabee. It increases the throughput performance and the programmability."

World's first working Moorestown platform
The event's showstopper: a live video from a Moorestown lab in Taiwan, which also demonstrated the world's first working Moorestown platform! The Moorestown platform is scheduled for 2009-2010 timeframe.

Moorestown comprises of an SoC, codenamed "Lincroft," which integrates the 45nm processor, graphics, memory controller and video encode/decode onto a single chip and an I/O hub codenamed "Langwell", which supports a range of I/O ports to connect with wireless, storage, and display components in addition to incorporating several board level functions.

Chandrasekher showed off a ''Moorestown'' wafer to the delegates.

In the next blog, I will introduce you to the Father of the Atom!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No fabs? So?? Fabless India shines brightly!!

This is no secret: fabs or no fabs, fabless India has been shining brightly all this while and will continue to do so for some time!

I've blogged on numerous occasions about India's strength in design services, India as the embedded superstar, and well, about India's growing might in global semicon. A fab will surely boost India's image on the global map, but it is definitely not that essential!

It was very pleasing to hear S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association, and President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree, also highlight this fact at Altera's SOPC conference recently. Perhaps, India has been emphasizing on having a fab. However, if the fabless segment keeps growing as it has been up until now, that would boost industry growth as well!

Top 10 global fabless companies
For the record, here are the top 10 global fabless companies of the world, as reported by the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA), formerly, Fabless Semiconductor Association, USA.

According to GSA, the total fabless revenue was $27.3 billion, a 12 percent growth year-on-year during 1H 2008. I believe, quite a few, or nearly all of the companies within the GSA top 10 list, have some sort of a presence in India!

Let's also re-visit the numbers provided by ISA-Frost & Sullivan in its study on the Indian semiconductor industry. The India semiconductor TAM (total available market) revenues will likely grow by 2.5 times, and the TM (total market) will likely double revenues in 2009. Is this not good enough?

Bear in mind that India also plays an active role in the verification and software domains, and it is increasingly covering the entire design chain. The fabs. vs. fabless debate has been going on since 2004-05. Back then, too, many industry observers were backing the fabless route. Now, this discussion is perhaps, a non-issue, with the fabless segment easily the star performer.

India has long had the expertise in chip/board design, embedded software and system engineering. Also, the product and service differentiation is being increasingly driven through software, where India already enjoys a lead over other the APAC countries.

India distinctly has a tremendous opportunity to lead the global market in both semiconductors and electronic products, with or without fabs, or even being fabless!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TI Beagle Board for Indian open source developers and hobbyists

Texas Instruments recently introduced the pocket-size, USB-powered Beagle Board based on TI's OMAP3530 applications processor. It features an ARM Cortex-A8 core, 2D/3D graphics engine and high-performance TMS320C64x+ digital signal processor (DSP) core.

This will help open source developers and hobbyists in India to realize their creative design ideas without being restricted by expensive hardware development tools, lackluster performance capabilities, high power consumption or stifled design environments, according to Khasim Syed Mohammed, Lead Developer for Open Platforms, Texas Instruments India Pvt. Ltd.

He added: "It helps us in learning cutting edge technology, innovating new ideas and executing them. Beagle board should be used to explore the growing demand in areas like medical, security, infotainment, navigation, education, signal processing, mobile devices and communication."

Important for India
This initiative is particularly important in India where students can use the board to learn, show case their efforts and global recognition for their innovations.

Innovators in India should use this opportunity to prototype their ideas using the specification software hardware openly available in a never before package. It is important for the student community to learn new technologies, explore new areas and innovate. This initiative by TI also helps startups in India who want to explore the OMAP hardware but have limited support base for their requirements.

Passionate open source developers and hobbyists in India can realize their creative design ideas without being restricted by expensive hardware development tools, lackluster performance capabilities, high power consumption or stifled design environments.

Open platform innovators have the expandability of desktop machines without the expense, bulk or noise with the Beagle board, which is a powerful, low-cost and fan-less embedded system development board smaller than the size of an index card.

Board named after Beagle
The board is named after a popular breed of dogs, Beagle. It has been designed it to be one of the shortest pocket sized OMAP3530 boards. TI is encouraging the Open community to treat this as a pet, which is easy to carry and can be USB powered so that development is made easy and can perform high end applications at very less power.

Inspired to create a small, open source development board, a small group of enthusiastic engineers worked together on the concept and realization of the Beagle board. The resulting 3x3-inch board bridges desktop and embedded development by allowing developers to use the same peripherals and usage mode for almost limitless expansion. Developers are able to design exactly according to their specifications and collaborate with the community on creative new applications.

Mohammed said: "There is a growing need for development support in the Open Community. The Open Community is capable and passionate to work on industry's high end processors and architectures and build innovative applications and prototypes for mobile, portable infotainment, portable navigation, medical, home security and many such applications. Another important reason for this initiative was the cost implications in owning a high end platform which was restricting them in exploring many such ideas/applications."

Beagleboard is a global initiative to address the growing needs of the Open community to help them innovate and explore new areas by providing them access to leading hardware and software, giving them a forum to present their views and thoughts, showcasing their efforts for global appreciation, maintain community's contribution.

Developers can quickly maximize their design concepts by tapping into the expertise and support of some of the industry's top Linux programmers already experimenting with the Beagle board. With communities hosting the latest updates and codes, live forums and chats for easy collaboration, developers have easy access to support and exchange of ideas. Users are encouraged to join active, existing communities already participating in the project.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies

Alright folks! This has taken some time coming, but it is worth the wait! Presenting the Top 20 solar photovoltaic companies during Q1-2008. May I add here that I am extremely grateful to iSuppli's Jon Cassell for giving me this opportunity.

I was also fortunate enough to discuss this table with Dr. Henning Wicht, Senior Director, Principal Analyst, iSuppli Deutschland GmbH, in Munich, Germany.

Parameters for rankings
First up, what were the parameters used by iSuppli to determine the top 20? According to Dr. Wicht, the top 20 cell-companies have been ranked by production in 2007 and by announced production capacity 2010. He clarified, "Ranking by revenue is not applicable because many integrated manufactures publish compound revenues for cells, modules and systems."

Yes, there have been several announcements in the solar/PV space, in India, and globally, and some names could be missing here. However, the new cell manufacturing projects will be included as soon as they are announced.

Coming back to the topic, it is necessary to examine the role of subsidies. While photovoltaics have been getting cheaper, Dr. Wicht said that subsidies were still necessary to support the PV markets. "It shows that the time grid parity shortens faster than expected earlier. As an example, for Germany, the grid parity might be achieved in 2015, which is two years earlier than expected in 2007."

That is to say, the support programs are benefical, both to support markets to become independent sustainable and to develop the regional industry.

Global interest in solar/PV
Critically, there seems to have developed a sudden interest in solar/PV, starting late 2007, when this (solar) has been around for some time. How has this happened?

According to Dr. Wicht, raising CO2 levels generated through fossil energy, CO2 certificates, rising prices of fossil fuels, political dependency from oil exporting countries drove the Kyoto protocol to reduce CO2.

"Renewable energy is a major pillar to achieve that goal. European governments have been frontrunners to implement and execute that goal. That said, solar has been around for a while. Japan was the first significant market. However, on a global basis, it took off in Europe from 2005 onward," he noted.

With the spate of initiatives in solar/PV, can it not turn out to be a case of too many folks entering the same line?

Sure, over and undersupply happens along the supply chain! The iSuppli market research figures out imbalances, which drive prices/margins up and down.

Also, isn't there a chance of solar/PV getting commoditized, or has it already become one? Well, PV modules are a commodity product, said the analyst. The market is still in its infancy and it will continue to grow for the next 10 years and further. The overall saturation will come, but still some years to go.

Is solar helping semicon?
Some industry folks have been saying that the solar/PV initiatives are not really helping the overall semicon industry, a statement I agree with as well. Also, it may only be benefitting some of the equipment makers.

Dr. Wicht said: "Indeed, semicon fabs are not able to produce competitively solar cells and the solar need for semiconductor devices is rather low. The semiconductor companies, however diversify into PV, e.g., Qimonda with a new cell production. Intel is investing in several PV companies, LG is investing in Conergy, etc., or supplying devices for power conversion, e.g, National Semiconductor. However, the overall impact on the semicon devices market is rather low!

Solar, semicon on par?
iSuppli made a forecast some time back regarding investments in solar and semiconductors being on par by 2010.

The investments for solar cell production raising up to several hundreds of Mio USD, up to 1 Bio $ per production site. That is coming close to a semiconductor fab. The total capex of semiconductor is still 10 times larger than PV. However, PV is rising much faster.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cadence's Virtuoso vs. Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer!

Synopsys recently introduced the Galaxy Custom Designer, which provides a unified solution for custom and digital designs, thereby enhancing designer efficiency.

Well, this solution invariably draws a comparison with Cadence's Virtuoso platform within the EDA industry!

That prompted me to engage Sandeep Mehndiratta, Product Marketing Group Director, Cadence Design Systems, in this discussion. We discussed a range of issues, such as how the Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer matches up with the Virtuoso, and whether designers can now design what they wish, including concepts and flows, as well as the relevance of open architectures.

For the record, a few years ago, Cadence introduced the next-generation Virtuoso custom design IC 6.1 platform, which had a major upgrade recently with the IC 6.1.3 release. This release has been production-proven with tapeouts from many customers. However, as I said, it is Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer doing the rounds in the EDA circles as of now!

Galaxy Custom Designer vs. Virtuoso
It is well known that Cadence has been the established leader in custom IC design space for decades, and has been constantly improving and upgrading technology to ensure it is providing best-in-class platform for designing today's complex custom chips.

Mehndiratta said: "A couple of years ago we introduced the next-generation Virtuoso custom design IC 6.1 platform. This release has been production-proven with tapeouts from many customers. Some of the leading customers that have adopted the Virtuoso platform include Ricoh, National Semiconductor, Cambridge Analog Technologies Inc., Matsushita, etc.

"Synopsys has recently launched Galaxy Designer and it is unproven as yet. From what we've read and heard from some of our mutual customers, the competitive introduction may be attempting to replicate older custom IC technology. While the jury will probably be out for some time on this unproven tool, Cadence continues to provide a complete solution for design, verification and implementation of complex analog and mixed-signal designs, differentiated by the tight integration between the underlying technologies."

With the advent of Galaxy, is it now safe to say that designers can finally design what they wish, including concepts and flows? Well, the answer's not yet there! However, Mehndiratta did touch upon Cadence's solution that is built upon decades of experience in this area and a strong eco-system made up of partners, third-party providers and foundries. Virtuoso, he added, is the most complete eco-system for designing ICs; not only with its inherent flow, but also because of its linkages to multiple tools inside and outside of Cadence.

"For many years, we have provided a consistent front-to-back flow, and over that time we have learned much about what customers need to do their designs efficiently. It is that knowledge base that we leveraged to accelerate productivity with 6.1 release couple of years back," he added.

If that is the case, why has it taken so long for a first modern-era mixed-signal implementation solution to be in place?

He referred to Cadence's next generation Virtuoso 6.1 introduced in November 2006, said to be the first modern, and most complete custom design solution released natively on the OA database. Productivity benefits are significant. RFIC Solutions Inc., a third-party intellectual property and design service provider, is said to have increased productivity two-fold by adopting the Cadence Virtuoso custom design platform.

Likewise, INSIDE Contactless, a fabless company and leader in contactless technology providing high-performance chipsets for secure, fast and reliable transactions with electronic identification, saved 20 percent in development time by adopting Cadence Virtuoso UltraSim Full-Chip Simulator, a component of Virtuoso Multi-Mode Simulation with a high-performance digital-solver technology, for the verification of its current and next-generation contactless and Near Field Communication (NFC) system-on-chip (SoC) designs.

He noted: "Specifically, mixed-signal design is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The concept of mixed-signal design isn't new. People have been designing in this manner for 15+ years. What is new is the more holistic approach being taken by designers developing mixed-signal circuits. The once clear lines between analog and digital design are blurring, and now the idea of "mixed-signal" is being architected in right from the beginning.

"That is why Cadence's AMS Designer covers transistor to system level design with a single simulation solution for complete verification. It is why Cadence has combined the power of its leading implementation platforms (Virtuoso and Encounter) to handle the implementation of mixed-signal designs."

Given that Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer can provide a unified solution for custom and digital designs, thereby enhancing designer efficiency, how will it change/affect designing, and the EDA landscape?

Mehndiratta pointed out that Cadence had defined a unified solution long ago. "Our industry leadership in this area, and Synopsys mimicking of that solution are testaments of Cadence's vision. Competition is good for all industries, the end-customer usually benefits. You can count on Cadence to not only remain competitive, but also retain our industry leadership in custom/mixed-signal design."

Importance of open architecture
Let us also look at the importance of open architecture that natively supports interoperable PDKs.

Cadence also believes in open architectures. Its Design Framework II was built as an open architecture, and that's the reason, why there are many companies that have connected (30+) to form a larger ecosystem. Whereas, the Industry Standard Framework has been tried and failed, the company maintains.

Mehndiratta said: The reason it was a failure is the same as interoperable PDKs. Building frameworks and PDKs that are based on a "lowest common denominator" principle do not provide the most optimized design flow. Instead, you are left with systems that try to please everyone and in the end are rejected as bloated beasts retarding the progress of design."

Finally, how does Cadence propose to address the Galaxy challenge?

As expected, Cadence hopes to continue to provide customers and partners with a framework in which they can build their tools into the Virtuoso design flow in the most optimized way possible.

Also, by providing its proven and industry standard Pcell technology that takes advantage of the key features in Cadence's design flow, thereby allowing for fast and productive design today and in the future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer tackles analog mixed signal (AMS) challenges

Synopsys Inc. recently unveiled its Galaxy Custom Designer solution, the industry’s first modern-era mixed-signal implementation solution. Architected for productivity, the Galaxy Custom Designer leverages Synopsys’ Galaxy Design Platform to provide a unified solution for custom and digital designs, thereby enhancing designer efficiency.

Galaxy Custom Designer delivers a familiar user interface while integrating a common use model for simulation, analysis, parasitic extraction and physical verification. It is the first-ever implementation solution built natively on the OpenAccess database for legacy designs as well as a new componentized infrastructure offering unprecedented openness and interoperability with process design kits (PDKs) from leading foundries.

Subhash Bal, Country Director, Synopsys (India) EDA Software Pvt. Ltd, highlighted three key features: One, it is architected for productivity. Two, it is a complete custom design solution. And three, it is based on an open environment.

The key question: why the Galaxy Custom Designer, and why now? Simple! The modern AMS era is characterized by interdependent custom and digital functions; analog IP is now mainstream; and there is the phenomena of an increased embedded memory. Current solutions are said to possess limited horizon. Hence, Galaxy!

A new solution is said to be the need of the hour, which is complete -- verification and implementation, with common models, extraction, analysis. Re-spin is not an option. Next, unified implementation, which addresses both custom and cell based needs. Custom and cell based functions are highly interdependent. Also, close to 100 percent of designs today are AMS.

Finally, the solution has to be open and portable. This accelerates the design cycle and IP portability. Also, quicker access to process details is a must! Architected for productivity, Galaxy Custom Designer has a similar look and feel, and works using fewer clicks -- three as against six!

Galaxy Custom Designer's Schematic Editor has productivity enhancers such as real-time connectivity, on-canvas editing and smart connect. Similarly, productivity enhancers for its Layout Editor include push button DRC and Extract, standard TCL and Python PCells, and auto via and guard ring generation. The WaveView Analyzer has features such as highest capacity and performance, complex analysis toolbox, and an automated TCL verification scripting.

A unified platform for cell and custom means superior ease of use, performance, capacity and data integrity. Open and portable, it facilitates plug-and-Play IP as well as standards based PDK, which means one PDK for all tools, added Synopsys' Bal.

The IPL (Interoperable PDK Libraries) is an industry alliance established on April 2007 to collaborate on the creation and promotion of interoperable process design kit (PDK) standards.

Wipro Technologies has been among the early users of the Galaxy Custom Designer. I also managed to speak with Anand Valavi, Group Head, Analog Mixed-Signal Group, Wipro Technologies.

Valavi said: "From an EDA tool perspective, in AMS area, the amount of productivity is a lot less than in the digital area. The per transistor productivity for a digital designer is several magnitudes higher than an analog designer."

The methodology is definitely not as evolved as in the digital area. According to him, 'This productivity will now increase for analog and AMS areas, and people can do a lot more complex designs in a shorter period of time. There has been a lot of integration."

On the salient features or enhancements, he said there have been reasonably good improvement in several areas. One, there is an alternative, now, and that brings a lot of advantages. Two, when you take it down to next level, there are several other technical reasons.

Valavi added that an integrated environment definitely improved the productivity. There are other minor things. When you start using it, there are things that helps technical users -- for example, an on-canvas editing. Also, the usage or collaborative results in the iPDK libraries will improve the effectiveness in chips designs that are churned out. "It will surely give people working in analog design area a choice," he noted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

TI's TPS62601 converter for telecom apps

This August, Texas Instruments India (TII) announced the industry's smallest and thinnest 500-mA, step-down DC/DC converter solution, the TPS62601 converter, for space-constrained applications.

According to TI, It gives portable designers the ability to add more features and functions on a handheld device. The high-efficiency power management IC is the first 6-MHz, 500-mA converter to achieve a 13-mm2 solution size with an ultra-thin 0.6-mm total height.

I caught up with Ramprasad Ananthaswamy, Director, Power Management Products, Texas Instruments India, to find out a bit more about this so-called industry's smallest and thinnest converter solution, and its essential design trends.

So what exactly is the TPS62601 power converter targeted toward? According to Ananthaswamy, the TPS62601, a high-efficiency power management IC is the first 6-MHz, 500-mA converter to achieve a 13mm2 solution size with an ultra-thin 0.6-mm total height.

The TPS62601 converter achieves up to 89-percent power efficiency and only 30-uA typical operating quiescent current, all from a 0.9x1.3mm chip scale package roughly the size of a flake of pepper. The synchronous, switch-mode device’s fixed frequency of 6 MHz allows the use of only one 0.47-uH inductor with a height of 0.6 m and two low-cost ceramic capacitors, without compromising performance and efficiency.

The device supports applications, such as memory modules, GPS modules, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules or other wireless micro-modules used in ultra-thin smart phones, digital still cameras, portable disk drives and media players.

Applications areas of this device include: Smart and media phones; Cell phones; Media players; Mobile Internet devices; DSCs; and Other portable communications devices.

This chip will help powering sources such as: WLAN modules; WiFi modules; Bluetooth modules; Memory modules; and Generic micro modules.

Essential design trends
There is a need to understand the essential design trends of the TPS62601 that makes it unique. Ananthaswamy added that the TPS62601 can deliver DC voltage regulation accuracy of +/- 1.5 percent. In addition, its excellent load transient response, wide input voltage range of 2.3V to 5.5V and 1.8V of output allows the device to effectively support single-rail voltage requirements as designers add new features and functions.

The converter also applies energy-saving techniques to help maximize battery run-time. For example, the converter automatically enters a power save mode during light-load operating conditions via an automatic pulse frequency modulation and pulse width modulation switching feature. In shutdown mode, the device’s current consumption is reduced to less than 1 uA. 

Size and high-performance are important. The converter achieves up to 89-percent power efficiency and only 30-uA typical operating quiescent current, from a small chip scale package.

A high switching frequency of 6MHz reduces the size of the external components used around this chip, thereby reducing the total size of the power solution. A low quiescent current of 30 uA also makes it very attractive for portable applications requiring long run times.

Helping portable designers
Let us understand how the TPS62601 will actually enable the portable designers to add more features and functions on to a handheld device. Ananthaswamy says: "Portable system designers continue to desire more features on their devices, which require smaller, efficient DC/DC converters to maintain long battery life and system run-times. As the size of the total power solution is small, more PCB space becomes available for additional features that need to get added on to the cell phone. The TPS62601 gives portable designers access to the smallest, thinnest 500-mA DC/DC solution, which simplifies design and reduces board space and time-to-market."

The converter also applies energy-saving techniques to help maximize battery run-time. For example, the converter automatically enters a power save mode during light-load operating conditions via an automatic pulse frequency modulation and pulse width modulation switching feature. In shutdown mode, the device’s current consumption is reduced to less than 1uA.

Power management
How well does the TPS62601 tackle power management issues? The biggest issue inside feature rich cell phones today is thermal management. This power converter, consuming only 30uA for its own operation, manages the thermal problem through efficient power conversion. "Better efficiency means less heat," added Ramaswamy.

Energy-saving techniques
Elaborate on the energy-saving techniques that can help maximize battery run-time, he said: "Globally, switching regulators are efficient means of power conversion. This device is a buck derived switching regulator that efficiently converts the single cell Li-ion battery voltage to the one that is required by the various multimedia rich cell phone chips, like applications processors, GPS modules, digital multimedia broadcast chips, camera engines, WiFi etc.

"It can power all of these chips, while consuming as little as 30uA for its own operation. Depending on the input to output voltage ration, the conversion efficiency can also reach close to 90 percent. Less consumption, better conversion efficiencies, etc., all of these result in longer battery run times."

Is it then safe to say that the maximizing battery run-time problem has been tackled with the TPS62601? Not exactly!!

According to Ramaswamy, the TPS62601 addresses part of the battery run-time issue. "With this initiative, TI has gone a step ahead in making the battery last longer," he noted.

Making power converters efficient is only a part of the battery run-time issue. Along with making power converters efficient, one also has to look at how much power is consumed by the various chips that are used in a cell phone, the operating system that runs the cell phone and the overall power saving features that are built into the cell phone system. The speaker volume settings, backlight brightness settings and the duration of the backlight and some of the other user friendly settings have an effect on the battery run times.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Solar, semi rocking in India; global semi recovery in 2010?

Wow! What a start for October! We have had a whole new range of activities going on! Fist, late September, the India Semiconductor Association organized a solar/PV conclave in New Delhi, where plans were laid out for India's roadmap in the solar/PV field. the ISA-NMCC (National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council) report on the Indian solar PV market was also released at the conclave.

According to Poornima Shenoy, president, ISA, the year 2015 could be important for this industry. She said, "Around this time, the product cost of the Indian solar PV industry is likely to match the semi grid parity (peak power) globally, and also to match the grid parity within India."

Next, AMD joined hands with Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC) of Abu Dhabi to create "The Foundry Company", a leading-edge foundry production outfit. It will also join the IBM joint development alliance for silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and bulk silicon through 22nm generation. It will be very interesting to see how AMD now takes on Intel!

Messe Munchen put out a white paper on "How China, India and Eastern Europe are changing the global electronics market." This is not surprising at all! You can download the report by clicking on the link here, and I must say, the report is really engaging!

On the same lines, Gartner came up with its analysis that China is dominating the global semiconductor scene, and that both India and Vietnam are gaining! India's growing might in semicon is well documented! Also, last month, I had mentioned how the lack of a fab or the exit of a top professional from an Indian semicon firm would not hamper India's growing fortunes in this industry!

The trials and tribulations of the global semiconductor industry were already touched upon by Derek Lidow of iSuppli. Analysts such as Malcolm Penn of Future Horizons and those at Gartner have been saying similar things, more or less. Penn advises that this is the time to stop chasing fashion and get back to basics. He adds, "The good news being the industry basics are mercifully as good as they get back."

Gartner only expects a recovery for semiconductors sometime in 2010! According to Gartner, a collapse in memory spending, combined with a weak economy, is driving a major contraction in semiconductor capital equipment spending in 2008. The slowdown is likely to continue into 2009 before the industry recovers in 2010.

SEMI now has a presence in India. Sathya Prasad, formerly of Cadence, has been appointed as president of SEMI India with immediate effect. This is a further indication of India's growing leadership in the semicon space. I will be getting into a discussion with Sathya Prasad sometime later.

Of course, we have the usual stuff like companies selling off or retiring 200mm fabs. Examples are NXP, Hynix, Renesas, etc. Also, DRAM prices continue to be weak and suppliers could likely face a credit crunch.

Interesting mix of happenings, isn't it! While India rocks in solar and semicon, we are still speculating on a recovery for the global semiconductor industry. About time India took the lead in making that happen!

Finally, I was busy with Durga Puja, and hence, didn't blog in a while. Will try my best and make up for my absence. I would like to take this opportunity to wish SHUBHO BIJOYA to all of my Bengali and non-Bengali friends.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What can the global semicon industry do to get back its money-making touch!

It is very well known that the global semiconductor industry has had a year full of turmoil. The ongoing global financial has been not been of any help either.

The key question: Has the semiconductor industry really lost its money making touch?

According to iSuppli, facing dwindling profits, fewer opportunities to expand by taking market share from competitors and a shrinking roster of star performers, the semiconductor industry has entered a period of lowered expectations and diminishing options, forcing chip suppliers to rethink their basic strategies for success.

Thanks to Jon Cassell at iSuppli, I caught up with Derek Lidow, president and CEO, of iSuppli, to find out more about why the global semiconductor industry has become less forgiving. He has offered a range of suggestions for the global semiconductor industry to adopt and follow. The beauty of the advice lies in its simplicity, and I hope the industry is reading!

Facing dwindling profits and fewer opportunities to expand by taking market share from competitors and a shrinking roster of star performer, how difficult is the market today?

According to Derek Lidow, at the moment, the makers of electronics have started slamming on the brakes as they have decided that the financial turmoil will effect Christmas spending.

In this scenario, what strategies should the players: a) fabs; b) NAND; c) DRAM; d) materials devise, to ensure some turnaround?

Lidow says that the fab players should consolidate fabs to make them more efficient.

Both the NAND players and DRAM players should push out capacity expansion plans. Makers of devices should make variations of the existing products that customer would like to have, and don't turn down opportunities to lock in orders for specials.

If semiconductors have actually lost their money-making touch, it is really an alarming sign. However, Lidow advises that the semiconductor business is maturing and every industry, as it matures, must undergo transitions.

Leaders can't ignore looming changes
"Often, these transitions come as a surprise and many companies go through hard times," he says. "Semiconductor companies don't have to go through the turmoil of the steel or automotive industries if it doesn't want to. The leaders of the industry just can't ignore the looming changes."

Is there a way that semiconductor companies break out of the current market dynamics to outperform the industry?

Lidow suggests the semiconductor companies should STOP doing things that they are not good at! He adds: "Each company will have to follow a recipe that eliminates where they are mediocre and focuses on where they add real value. Next, they should change their business models so that semiconductor technology is the tool, not the objective."

According to him, designing more total systems with system-level chips built around proprietary Intellectual Property (IP) should be enough.

He says: "The electronics industry is $1.5 trillion dollars in size, and the semiconductor industry is $270 billion in size. There is a lot more value to capture. However, the value is more complex to unlock and requires as much or more software expertise as it does semiconductor expertise. They have to get married together to succeed in developing proprietary IP."

Areas to outspend rivals
As for the areas where companies can massively outspending rivals in areas of products and manufacturing, these would be leading edge wafer foundries, memory chips, and the most complex system-on-chips (SoCs).

Why won't this massive outspend simply to maintain technical and scale dominances in competitive market segments be risky?

Lidow says you can only use this strategy if you know you can outspend your rival! "We see the problems of a spending race in the memory market where many companies are trying to keep up with Samsung's massive investments and it is hurting everyone," he points out.

iSuppli has also advised adopting a scalable acquisition process that would allow a semiconductor company to grow by buying other companies or selected parts of companies.

Lidow says: "I think the point of my article was that there haven't been any success stories to date. So, this strategy is unproven, but very tantalizing, considering the state of the maturing industry."