24th April 2011

Oracle vs. HP and Intel’s Itanium – a semiconductor perspective

Recently a friend mentioned about the tremendous impact on Intel from Oracle’s March 22 announcement of its discontinuing development on Itanium.

While I had known about this announcement, I had not really given it much thought from the semiconductor perspective. So when I heard this comment, I started digging up…!

A bit on the background first: Using an architecture (based on explicit instruction level parallelism - in which the compiler decides which instructions to execute in parallel; as opposed to the superscalar architectures in which the processor manages the instructions dependencies at run time) that originated at HP and was later jointly developed along with Intel, Itanium is a family of 64-bit Intel microprocessors. The architecture was formerly called IA-64.

By 2009, the chip was almost entirely deployed on servers made by HP, which had over 95% of the Itanium server market share making HP-UX the main operating system for Itanium.

Ironically, the hardware competition to Intel’s Itanium comes from a chip from its own stables – the Xeon (Intel’s response to AMD’s x86-64 Opteron in 2004) that has cranked up its market share in the server pie over the years.

In comparison with its Xeon family of server processors, Itanium has never been a high-volume product for Intel. Majority of Intel’s server business is x86 and it will in the end suffer only a token loss of revenue as a result of Oracle’s announcement. Itanium has become such a niche product for Intel that the announcement had little effect on the chipmaker’s stock - Intel shares were up .02%, to $20.15 the morning after.

Here are some figures:

In the fourth quarter 2010, both Gartner and IDC saw x86 server revenues grow more than 20 percent. According to Intel (which cites figures by IDC), revenues of Itanium-based servers was $4 billion in 2010. By contrast, x86-based server sales was around $33.3 billion in 2010. With the x86 server market being eight times larger than that of Itanium, it does not make much sense for Intel to invest into Itanium’s development. On the other hand, it also cannot simply ignore the $4B Itanium market especially with the fact that the sockets for Itanium and Xeon are NOT interchangeable – as yet. Intel shared some information and re-iterated its commitment on the Itanium roadmap this month.

Btw, Intel recently announced 2 more server makers into its Itanium roster: Huawei Technologies and Inspur – that’s a 50 per cent growth rate in the Itanium OEM base.

posted in Semiconductor, Product, Business | 0 Comments

6th May 2010

Shortages hit LCD Driver IC

Close on the heels of analog chip shortages, comes the LCD driver IC one.
While there is a high demand for LCDs (used in notebooks, desktop PCs and cellular phones), chip makers are reluctant to add capacity – the older, high voltage and older technologies used for making them are considered unprofitable.
Companies are going in for alternate options – Samsung and Toshiba has paired up with Toshiba to start production of a “common-type” driver for 256-color super-twisted nematic LCD drivers and Samsung to produce the complementary “segment-type” driver. NEC, a leading driver supplier, is outsourcing to Sanyo Electric.   

posted in Semiconductor, Product, Business | 0 Comments

17th October 2007

Broadcom unveils 3G integrated chip

Broadcom Corp has announced that it has developed an integrated 3G high-speed wireless cell phone chip ahead of bigger rivals like TI and Qualcomm. The news has sent up its shares by as much as 3 percent while those of TI and Qualcomm dropped.

The BCM21551 combines a 3G baseband transceiver, Bluetooth 2.1, and a multiband RF transceiver on a single chip. The chip also includes an FM radio transmitter & receiver for playback through a car stereo as well as support for a 5 megapixel camera, and advanced multimedia processing. Support for WiFi or GPS will need to come from a separate chip. The chip is available for customer testing and poses a competitive threat to other wireless chip makers like Infineon, NXP and Freescale. Analysts have been guessing off-late when a 3G iPhone might arrive (Apple’s recent deal with Interdigital has fuelled rumours of a 3G iPhone debut around Christmas this year). Broadcom expects the first phones using BCM21551 to come on the market in 2009. So while most likely the first set of 3G iPhones will have the 3G radio equipment provided by Infineon chipsets, the market may soon see other handsets with this integrated chip.

posted in Product, 3G | 1 Comment

3rd May 2007

Convergence outcome unclear but opportunity rich

I read an interesting article on the recent iSuppli European Briefing series held in Hungary and reported by Drew Wilson in Electronic Business.

While iSupply sees consumers with 2 main devices: one handset for communications & information and the other one for entertainment with internet, gaming, music & video, Nokia forecasts the merging of all useful functions into one gadget. Its senior analyst also predicts the death of the stand alone camera.

Ideally users would gravitate towards a single device. However, categorizing “useful functions” is a formidable task. Consumers will weigh the pros & cons of the category contents. Ease of use, cost, weight, form factor, features available vs. used, services available & related logistics to use those features, product life time etc. are just some of the variables entering the picture. As a user, I would prefer a single device but not at the cost of sacrificing on ease of use of my “basic functions” requirement. e.g. my phone can have the latest add-on features but if the OS hangs or access time is long or I’ve to dig deep into my pockets to pay the service provider and with newer versions popping into the market before one even familiarizes with an older model- well that’s one road I’m not likely to tread on.

While I see one set of people converging to a single device, I see a not insignificant market (rather a bigger chunk) which would opt for 2 main devices. The low-mid end standalone digital cameras will become obsolete as the technology develops and costs come down. But that in no way signals the demise of high end standalone digital camera. People will still likely take the standalone camera for their holidays and serious clicking leaving the on-impulse shots and convenience pics to the converged portable device e.g. their mobile phone with camera.

The other interesting point highlighted was the change in biz model. The huge market comes along with myriad standards, IPs, tech know-how and more stake holders from varying & multiple sectors. The challenge will be to pave a seamless integration path. This will be mandatory given the life-cycle & competitive costs of consumer products

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9th April 2007

Medical field may push India’s IC industry

TI’s CEO & President, Rich Templeton, mentioned the importance of medical equipment biz for India’s semiconductor industry during his visit to India.

Applications in the medical area, along with automotive applications hold prominence in the near future for the semiconductor industry in general, albeit a lot more in emerging markets like India and China. While consumer and telecom applications still remain strong contenders and are mainstream applications, the potential for these emerging segments is huge.

The shortened market window & pricing pressures for applications like entertainment/computing etc. falling under the generic consumer umbrella doesn’t give a leveling field to the smaller or niche players. This is where these yet to be fully tapped markets like medical and automotive hold the lure. Emerging market with strong potential which does not necessarily require the leading edge process ….. these can very well also pave the way for process choice in the soon to be set up foundries in India.

posted in Product, Business | 0 Comments

10th January 2007

Apple unleashes iPhone

While launching iTV, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs mentioned, “Apple is in your den, in your living room, in your car, and in your pocket, I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of where we’re going.”

Now a few months down the road, Apple has indeed added another gizmo for the pocket by introducing iPhone. Yet another player in the mobile phone/smart phone market. This time, however, as it is from iconic Apple, expectations are bound to be (“ahem”) a bit different – stylish, user friendly and features rich??

Waiting to see whether iPhone will have the same success as the iPod….
Apple’s shares have already registered a 6.7 % increase with the latest product launches – first Apple box/iTV and now iPhone.

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2nd November 2006

Low cost phones soar in China

With technology advances, more & more features are being incorporated in the mobile phone. And the existing features are being further refined e.g. increasing video and audio quality and PDA functions thrown in. While this entices the young generation, executives as well as techno geeks across various generations and the upward swinging classes, there still remains two main chunks of a country’s population waiting to be tapped - the rural or economically backward set and the other is the senior citizens club – and both exist in all countries.

China and India with the world’s largest and second largest populations of course provide the maximum growth potential. The difference is in the 2 categories. While the rural/economically backward class will opt for a no frill mobile as their first set of mobiles or as an entry point in climbing up the economic ladder, the senior citizens will opt for it for the sheer reason of convenience and ease to handle. A small mobile bundled with the latest technology for camera, PDA functions, audio etc. is not of much use to them especially if they have to pound the miniature keys – not an easy task with age taking its toll on their movements and eye-sight. What they need is a simple robust instrument able to do the basic functions and perhaps with a little bit of audio, camera and games thrown in – at an affordable cost – remember they have retired. And the size should be small enough to be held conveniently in their pockets or hung around their necks but not so small so as to make them lose it.

Both sets require low cost phones and this is where single chip solutions hold an edge. And as pointed out in the article, chipmakers lacking single chip solutions will face increasing pressure to compete with those that have them.

This makes for an observation here – why are the mobile companies not targeting the older generations especially in the developed countries like Japan and some European countries where the ratio of senior citizens to youth is quite high…..???

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14th November 2005

Unshackled IBM Microelectronics savors Game Box wins

Unshackled IBM Microelectronics savors Game Box wins - a very interesting article by Ed Sperling in a special report, Movers & Shakers 2005, in Electronic Business online.

Lining up 3 top gaming platforms, Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360 and the follow on to the Nintendo GameCube as customers for it’s Cell Processor is a real volume play. In the absence of any real killer application, high volumes design wins do not come easy.

Steven Longoria, vice president of semiconductor technology platforms in IBM’s Systems and Technology Group mentions that getting it’s technology consistent to avoid repetition of development steps is IBM’s top priority.

This is one area in the industry which usually takes a backseat amongst other priorities and is a major cause of ASIC design re spins. With the high mask costs, FTSS is getting more & more significant thus putting an ASIC vendor with a good track record of FTSS higher on the ASIC clients’ list. The shrinking market windows also do not leave much room for re spins.

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29th July 2005

PDA fad is over

Peter Clarke’s article PDA fad is over makes a compelling reading.

The appeal of the decreasing form factor in consumer gadgets made it’s advent not too long ago and was quickly embraced by the “young-on the move-possess-latest-gizmo” crowd. Along with came the expectation of packing of multiple features leading the industry to be perpetually kept on a delicate balancing act of features vs. size. And in features selection too, you have yet another formidable task. In the beginning, there were multiple gadget categories (you have a camera, a phone, an electronic diary etc.). But now you have a varying mix with blurred demarcations. The question that props up in the consumer’s mind is : do I go for a PDA phone or a phone PDA ?? A Blackberry is great for keeping me in sync with my email messages and to enforce my presence in this 24/365 flat world scenario, but how efficient is it to help me in calling and receiving telephone calls ?

And thus enters a plethora of gadgets, each with a dominant set of features catering to a specific market segment. It is difficult, if not impossible, to cater to all the transient and ever growing consumer requirements, into a handheld gadget with a long battery life and…. just to make life simpler “get the product out ASAP in market windows which are shrinking almost in line with the semiconductor process technology”! and I have not yet touched on pricing.

And that is where lies one of the major challenges : anticipating and gauging the consumer’s interests and preferences, getting the right mix (like Coke’s secret formula, but then even they were forced to innovate to sustain the consumers’ changing tastes!) and a continuous innovation (rather spin-offs from a basic model to be cost effective).

posted in Product | 0 Comments

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