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Semicon is no longer business as usual!


The Global Semiconductor Monthly Report June 2008 from Future Horizons, states: Let the market beware; it is no longer business as usual!

I would completely agree! For instance, the industry has since long moved to fabless, and now, fabless firms are ranking among the very best. Or, even from 130nm to 22nm process nodes, or from 180mm fabs to 450mm fabs!! Fair enough?

Coming back to the industry trends, Malcom Penn, CEO, Future Horizons, says that compared with March, the IC units were up and ASPs were down in April, even after adjusting for March being a five-week month. The net result was a 7.7 percent revenue decline! Does this spell more bad news for the beleaguered chip market?

Certainly, this seems to be the industry consensus view. Always the contrarian, Future Horizons’ views are different. Here’s how! April’s results came in exactly as expected. Also, the unit rise and fall was simply the result of the engrained ‘making the quarterly number’ mentality!

Digging beneath the layers reveals a set of market fundamentals that are in remarkably strong form. The penny may not yet have dropped to the table, but, even for the chip industry ever full of surprises, let the market beware; it is no longer business as usual.

Penn says: To paraphrase the late Sir Winston Churchill’s comments on Russia, “The chip industry too is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma”. It marches to its own complex interwoven pattern of rules, each relatively simple when viewed in isolation, but contriving to interact in a volatile and unique way. Right now, the industry is at its most confused [state] for a decade, battered by a barrage of uncertainties and contradictions. Shell-shocked and confused, confidence is off the agenda … just when what is needed most is cool heads and determination.”

Be it falling cap ex, tight capacity, focus on profits, continuing strong market demand, second half seasonal effects, according to him, the forecast tea leaves all seem to be pointing in the same positive direction. Has the worm finally turned then for the industry? He thinks so! Future Horizons also thinks that the “penny has yet to drop and that the impact on the market will be seismic and dramatic”.

Earlier, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) reported that worldwide sales of semiconductors of $21.8 billion in May were 7.5 percent higher than the $20.3 billion reported for May 2007, reflecting continued strong sales of consumer electronic products. May sales were 2.8 percent higher than the $21.2 billion reported for April 2008.

Do bear in mind that May is historically a strong month for semiconductor sales, as per SIA.

NAND strong minus Apple effect
DRAMeXchange has indicated in its monthly review on the DRAM segment that the NAND Flash prices are likely to gradually stabilize after mid-July pushing by lower price, new demand from 3G iPhone, smart phones and low-cost PCs.

Elsewhere, as reported by Semiconductor International, according to Semico, NAND unit shipments are likely to cross over 3.5 billion units in 2008 as against 2.5 billion units in 2007, leading to a year-over-year growth of 35 percent.

However, reflecting the memory segment’s ASP (average selling price) crunch, NAND revenues will grow 13 percent in 2008, down compared to 25 percent in 2007.” Semico has said that the NAND industry will record a growth year in 2008, without experiencing what it has called the ‘Apple effect’.

Heartening solar initiatives
The one heartening thing to note has been the various solar related initiatives that have taken place over the past month (actually, for over the year!). In fact, iSuppli has probably been spot on while analyzing that investments in solar and semiconductors could be on par by 2010!

SVTC Technologies, an independent semiconductor process-development foundry, announced that its SVTC Solar business unit has launched the Silicon Valley Photovoltaic Development Center in San Jose. Canadian Solar and LDK Solar signing a new agreement for an additional 800MW of solar wafers, besides LDK updating on its polysilicon plant in China.

National Semiconductors also entered the PV market with its SolarMagic technology that maximizes solar energy production. Evergreen Solar, a maker of solar power panels with its proprietary, low-cost String Ribbon wafer technology, signed two new long-term sales contracts. Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co. Ltd and IBM are also collaborating to establish new, low-cost methods for developing the next generation of solar energy products.

Not be left behind, Intel too is spinning off key assets of a start-up business effort inside Intel’s New Business Initiatives group to form an independent firm called SpectraWatt.

In India, solar has been making rapid strides, especially at the Fab City in Hyderabad. There is a possibility of something similar happening in Karnataka state as well.

Indeed, semiconductors are no longer business as usual! Right?

Tackling low-power design issues — Synopsys

July 1, 2008 Comments off

Managing power efficiently is not a choice, but an imperative. Semiconductor content is increasing everywhere, and in fact, consumers and globalization are driving the semiconductor content in electronic systems.

A glance at the ecosystem pyramid reveals that the global electronics industry stands at US$3,200 billion, semiconductors at US$274 billion, equipment and materials at US$86 billion, and EDA at US$4.4 billion. EDA is at the heart of the electronics industry.

Subhash Bal, country director, Synopsys (India) EDA Software Pvt. Ltd, says that for low power imperatives, it is important to look at systemic factors. Energy usage and carbon emissions, especially, have been growing alarmingly, and will continue to do so for quite some time. This is largely due to uncontrolled consumption of devices and other electronic equipment. “We need to support energy usage without carbon emissions. In that respect, solar is a good solution,” he adds.

Computing is energy intensive by nature. Consider these stats — approximately 1 billion of the world’s PCs are switched on for nine hours per day, requiring 95,000MW. And of the US$250 billion spent globally each year powering computers, about 85 percent of that energy is wasted, while the computer stands idle.

Today, more devices and gadgets are being introduced, with more features and at lower prices. All of these devices demand a huge amount of battery power. Speed increases at the expense of energy consumption. Leakage has also become a major issue. There is therefore a growing need to solve power-related problems.

The Synopsys Sentaurus
Synopsys’ Sentaurus optimizes a device’s power. It also addresses photovoltaics. The Sentaurus process is an advanced 1D, 2D, and 3D process simulator for developing and optimizing silicon and compound semiconductor process technologies.

Created by combining features from Synopsys and former ISE TCAD products, together with a wide range of new features and capabilities, Sentaurus is a new-generation process simulator for addressing the challenges found in current and future process technologies. “The Sentaurus takes care of the processing part. It does modeling, 2D/3D simulation, etc. It can be applied to both semiconductors and solar,” says Bal.

Eclypse low-power solution
Synopsys’ goal is to deliver the most comprehensive solution, enabling designers to build the most advanced, low power chips and systems in the world. In the hope of achieving this, it has introduced the Eclypse low-power solution. Sharat D Kaul, sales and marketing manager, Synopsys India, highlights the fact that the Eclypse looks at the design side specifically.

The silicon-level concerns include factors such as more functionality, more computing power, limited power budget, design complexity, verification complexity, testing, reliability and schedule. System-level concerns include factors such as battery life, system cooling, reliability, packaging cost, operating cost, air conditioning cost, carbon footprint and green initiatives. Most design teams are both overwhelmed and under prepared.

The Eclypse low power solution is aimed at addressing such needs. It provides an alignment of technology, IP, methodology, services and industry standards — geared to meet the challenges of advanced low power designs.

Eclypse supports the industry-standard Unified Power Format (UPF) language, used to capture low power design requirements. It offers low power education programs, end-to-end UPF support, multi-voltage verification with assertions, automated clock tree synthesis, and automated power switch optimization.

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