Category: Chips

FTC sues Qualcomm for antitrust antics

monopoly (1)The US Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm saying that the outfit had used “anticompetitive” tactics to maintain its monopoly on a key semiconductor used in mobile phones.

The FTC said that Qualcomm used its dominant position to impose “onerous” supply and licensing terms on smartphone manufacturers and to weaken competitors.

Qualcomm said in a statement that it would “vigorously contest” the complaint and denied FTC allegations that it threatened to withhold chips to collect unreasonable licensing fees.

The action is the last under current Democratic Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, who will step down soon after President Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump takes office.

Trump will name Republican Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen as acting FTC chairwoman and will fill three vacancies that will reshape the agency. She has previously said that the lawsuit was based on a “flawed legal theory … that lacks economic and evidentiary support”.

In its complaint, the FTC said the patents that Qualcomm sought to license are standard essential patents, which means that the industry uses them widely and they are supposed to be licensed on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

The FTC complaint also accused Qualcomm of refusing to license some standard essential patents to rival chipmakers, and entering an exclusive deal with Apple.

“Qualcomm’s customers have accepted elevated royalties and other license terms that do not reflect an assessment of terms that a court or other neutral arbiter would determine to be fair and reasonable,” the FTC said in its complaint.

In February 2015, Qualcomm paid a $975 million fine in China following a 14 month probe, while the European Union in December 2015 accused it of abusing its market power to thwart rivals.

 

Qualcomm details Snapdragon 835 processor

game-of-thrones-daenerys-dragonQualcomm has detailed its new Snapdragon 835 processor, which will power most of the leading Android smartphones this year.

Qualcomm SVP Keith Kressin said that the 835 was powerful enough to give AR and VR markets a kick up the bottom and could cause some serious problems for Chipzilla.

It has a Kryo 280 CPU under the bonnet but Qualcomm really is not talking much about that as it is the rest of the gubbins on the chip.

Qualcomm claims it is the first 10nm mobile processor, which will improve efficiency, and also by saying the CPU is “tightly integrated” with other components using the new Symphony system manager, which operates automatically yet can be customized by application developers.

This distributes work across the CPU, GPU, DSP, and more exotic components, letting the Snapdragon 835 work better than it would with CPU alone.

What will put the fear of Jehovah into Intel is that this is the first Qualcomm chip which can run Windows 10 on a mobile phone.

The Snapdragon 835 consumes 25 percent less power than the 820, according to Qualcomm. That means seven hours of 4K streaming video and two hours of VR gaming on a typical device, the company said.

Qualcomm can only do so much on power efficiency, it’s also introducing Quick Charge 4, which supposedly charges a phone to five hours of use in five minutes and is USB-C power delivery compliant.

The new Adreno 540 graphics chip improves 3D performance by 25 percent over the previous generation, Qualcomm said. But it enables features like HDR10, which improves colours; foveated rendering, which most clearly renders what you’re looking at rather than elements in the periphery of a scene; and low latency, which allows you to move your head smoothly around VR scenes. With one 32MP or two 16MP cameras running at the same time, the Snapdragon 835 supports various dual-camera functions.

The Snapdragon 835 will feature the X16 modem, which Qualcomm announced earlier this year and will be able to boost LTE to gigabit speeds. It has triple 20MHz carrier aggregation with 256-QAM encoding and 4×4 MIMO antennas.

We are predicting a rather good year for Qualcomm, when Vole gets its new Surface phones out later in the year.  This phones will be basically portable Windows 10 PCs and play nice with corporate networks.

Qualcomm faces $854 million for anti-trust

monopoly (1)South Korea’s antitrust watchdog has bitten a $854 million chunk from Qualcomm’s bottom line claiming the chipmaker used unfair business practices in patent licensing and modem chip sales.

Qualcomm said that it will appeal the decision which would be the largest ever levied in South Korea.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission which is very nearly the unfortunate acronym of a US fried chicken outfit  (KFTC) ruled  Qualcomm abused its dominant market position and forced handset makers to pay royalties for an unnecessarily broad set of patents as part of sales of its modem chips.

Qualcomm also restricted competition by refusing or limiting licensing of its standard essential patents related to modem chips to rival chipmakers such as Intel, Samsung  and MediaTek , the regulator said, hindering their sales and leaving their products vulnerable to lawsuits.

The regulator ordered Qualcomm to negotiate in good faith with rival chipmakers on patent licensing and renegotiate chip supply agreements with handset makers if requested – measures that would affect the U.S. firm’s dealings with major tech companies including Apple, Intel, Samsung and Huawei if upheld.

The KFTC said it began its investigations into Qualcomm’s practices in 2014 following complaints from industry participants, but did not name specific companies.

Foreign companies including Apple, Intel, MediaTek and Huawei expressed their views during the regulator’s deliberation process, KFTC Secretary General Shin Young-son told a media briefing in the country’s administrative capital.

Qualcomm said it will file for an immediate stay of the corrective order and appeal the decision to the Seoul High Court. The firm will also appeal the amount of the fine and the method used to calculate it.

“Qualcomm strongly disagrees with the KFTC’s announced decision,” it said in a statement.

While the fine is big, analysts said that the KFTC’s orders for Qualcomm to alter its business practices have bigger future implications for the chipmaker. The ruling forces the company to license patents for some of its chips to rivals such as Intel, which has been competing hard to land its modem chips in mobile phones.

 

SK Hynix expands memory chip operations

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SK Hynix is investing $2.7 billion in its home country and China to boost memory chip production.

There is a bit of a boom in demand for memory chips and Hynix wants to take advantage of that.

Most of the investment will build a new plant to make NAND flash chips used for long-term data storage.

A spokes Hynix said that to grow further, it is important to secure production facilities in advance to deal with NAND Flash market growth to be led by 3D NAND solutions.

Cash will be spent on the NAND chip plant which will be in South Korea, and a big chunk to boost DRAM capacity at its existing facilities at Wuxi, China.
Analysts think strong demand for memory chips will likely continue in 2017 as it will take several years for capacity spending announced by key players to yield meaningful production growth.

Supply will also be constrained as chipmakers shift to new production methods. In the NAND market, many manufacturers are converting existing production lines to high-end 3D NAND technology.

AMD’s Zen will be branded Ryzen

rizen-300x300AMD’s Zen will have a brand which sounds suspiciously like a drug for erectile dysfunction, a chemical weapon extracted from caster beans or a gospel group

The Ryzen brand will be applied to desktop and mobile variants. It had been formerly known as Summit Ridge. AMD has been telling the world that Ryzen is pronounced Rye-Zen (like horizon, without the “ho”). It has not said what the Rye means, but tired and emotional hacks suggested that it might be inspired by Jack Daniels – as indeed so are they.

Zen-based processors will target desktops, servers, and mobiles device, but the first wave of products will be targeted at the performance desktop market, where gamers and VR continue to spur growth. PC gaming hardware is predicted for 35 percent growth from 2015 to 2020, and VR-capable PCs are predicted to grow by a factor of 10 by 2020. Interest in eSports continues to skyrocket as well.

AMD has disclosed that one of the high-end options in the initial Ryzen line-up will feature eight cores (16 threads with SMT) and at minimum a 3.4 GHz base clock, with higher turbo frequencies. That processor will have 20MB of cache – 4MB of L2 and 16MB of L3. AMD is also hyping up what it is calling SenseMI technology. AMD’s SenseMI is a set of sensing and adapting technologies, including what AMD is calling “an artificial intelligence network” inside every Zen processor. There are five main features of SenseMI that include Pure Power, Precision Boost, and Extended Frequency Range (or XFR), along with the neural net prediction algos and smart prefetcher.

In fact, there is not that much exciting in SenseMI – it is just an updated branch predictor, prefetcher, and power and control logic in Zen. It might have some sexed up algorithms but it is not the ground breaking technology it is claimed.

AMD said that the AM4 platform for Ryzen will be have all the usual gubbins you expect to see on a modern PC enthusiast platform. AM4 motherboards will use DDR4 memory and feature PCIe Gen 3 connectivity, and support for USB 3.1 Gen 2, NVMe, and SATA Express.

Another thing that Ryzen will have is something called Pure Power which senses what’s going on with the processor’s current workload and provides a closed-loop control system to scale performance and power, over what AMD is calling its Infinity Fabric.

This monitors temperatures, frequencies, and voltage, and adaptively controls each element to optimize performance and power usage.

Another thing that Ryzen will have is something called Infinity Fabric which is interconnect technology used to link the individual bits of IP within a processor and the processor to other IO.

AMD wants this tech to scale its products, beyond moving to new process nodes, increase performance and efficiency, scale bandwidth, improve latency and the chip’s QoS.

Infinity Fabric consists of two key elements, a scalable control fabric and a scalable data fabric. The scalable control fabric has all the central control elements, with small remote elements that are dispersed in each different block of the SoC.

However the early indications suggest that Ryzen is rather good and should put the fear of Jehovah into Intel – particularly if AMD keeps the price down.

AMD releases AI based Radeons with basic instinct

BasicInstinct002AMD is announcing a new series of Radeon-branded products today, targeted at machine intelligence and deep learning enterprise applications.

Dubbed the Radeon Instinct, the chip is a GPU-based solution for deep learning, inference and training. AMD has also issued a new free, open-source library and framework for GPU accelerators, dubbed MIOpen.

MIOpen is made for high-performance machine intelligence applications and is optimized for deep learning frameworks in AMD’s ROCm software suite.

The first products are the Radeon Instinct MI6, the MI8, and the MI25. The 150W Radeon Instinct MI6 accelerator is powered by a Polaris-based GPU, packs 16GB of memory (224GB/s peak bandwidth), and can manage 5.7 TFLOPS of peak FP16 performance when the wind is behind it and it is going downhill.

It also includes the Fiji-based Radeon Instinct MI8. Like the Radeon R9 Nano, the Radeon Instinct MI8 features 4GB of High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM) with peak bandwidth of 512GB/s. AMD claims the MI8 will offer up to 8.2 TFLOPS of peak FP16 compute performance, with a board power that typical falls below 175W.

The Radeon Instinct MI25 accelerator uses AMD’s next-generation Vega GPU architecture and has a board power of approximately 300W. All the Radeon Instinct accelerators are passively cooled but when installed into a server chassis you can bet there will be plenty of air flow.

Like the recently released Radeon Pro WX series of professional graphics cards for workstations, Radeon Instinct accelerators will be built by AMD. All the Radeon Instinct cards will also support AMD MultiGPU (MxGPU) hardware virtualisation.

Intel puts in new planning application for Irish plant

juteworks_tcm4-572826Intel Ireland is lodging a fresh planning application with Kildare County Council for an estimated $4 billion new chip manufacturing facility at its headquarters in Leixlip.

It is not clear if the project will go ahead as Ireland is competing with other locations, most notably Israel, to land the investment. It received a 10-year permission for the plant in 2013, which its local management said “sits ready to be used when the corporation needs it”.

Since then the standard design of Intel’s “fabs” has changed and new planning approval would be needed.

The latest application is for a smaller facility than the one for which it got permission in 2013, which at the time was estimated could create more than 3,000 jobs during construction and fit out, and would cost $4 billion.

Intel said the new application, as well as reducing the footprint, would also site the proposed manufacturing plant further back from the N4 road. It would also be lower in height than the 2013 version.

The latest application also seeks permission for a car park to hold 2,200 cars, indicating that, if the project proceeded, it would likely provide a significant permanent employment boost to the area.

Apparently Chipzilla Ireland is still waiting on Intel HQ to give the project the nod.

Never mind AI, Intel has Nervana

3d2a123ddc312423225755a14fe7db2dChipzilla’s billion dollar investment in Nervana might be the key to making its server chips more intelligent.

Intel is laying out its roadmap to advance artificial intelligence performance across the board and Nervana technology appears to be everywhere.

The high-performance silicon market is dominated by GPUs. However, with Nervana inside, Intel hopes its new corporate tech with its a fully-optimized software and hardware stack will give that business model a good kicking.

Nervana hardware will initially be available as an add-in card that plugs into a PCIe slot. The first Nervana silicon, codenamed Lake Crest, will make its way to select Intel customers in H1 2017.

Intel is also talking about Knights Mill, which is the next generation of the Xeon Phi processor family. Intel said that Knights Mill will deliver a 4x increase in deep learning performance compared to existing Xeon Phi processors and the combined solution with Nervana will offer orders of magnitude gains in deep learning performance.

Diane Bryant, Executive VP of Intel’s Data Center Group said that the Intel Nervana platform to produce breakthrough performance and dramatic reductions in the time to train complex neural networks.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said that Nervana’s technologies will produce a 100-fold increase in performance in the next three years to train complex neural networks, enabling data scientists to solve their biggest AI challenges faster.

Obama launches new Semiconductor Working Group

obama-funny-face-grr-growl-640x397The US government has launched a new initiative to put the US back in front in the semiconductor industry.

President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST) today announced the launch of a new Semiconductor Working Group that will provide recommendations to address the rapid rise of semiconductor businesses abroad.

John Neuffer, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, the US industry trade group, said in a statement that the US industry was facing major challenges and was facing unprecedented government investment programmes in some countries like China and Taiwan.

Meanwhile getting to the “next stage” meant increasing technological complexity involved in achieving innovation breakthroughs.

“These developments have implications not only for the economy and society, but also national security. In fact, SIA earlier recommended the Administration form a public-private advisory group to help guide government policy related to improving the competitiveness of the US semiconductor industry,” Neuffer said.

Neuffer added that semiconductors were a “fundamental building block for US technology leadership.”

“They enable commercial innovations that drive economic growth and productivity, as well as strategically important platforms that ensure US national security, such as satellites and supercomputers. The chip industry spawns new industries, makes existing industries more productive, and drives advances once never imagined,” he said.

To stay on top. The US needs a vibrant industry and the Obama plan will allow for the assessment, analysis and formulation of recommendations to the next Administration on how to maintain US leadership in this key sector.

Qualcomm spends $47 billion to buy NXP Semiconductors

qualcomQualcomm is writing a $47 billion cheque for NXP Semiconductors in a move which will help it to expand into new industries and become less dependent on  smartphone chips.

NXP is the biggest supplier of chips used in the automotive industry. The deal will be funded with cash on hand as well as new debt.

The deal is the largest in the chip industry’s history and the Dutch outfit is NXP is strong in that sector following its acquisition last year of Freescale Semiconductor.

Qualcomm supremo Steve Mollenkopf said it was no secret that that the company has  been looking around.

“If you look at our growth strategy it’s to grow into adjacent markets at the time that they are being disrupted by the technology of mobile.”

He claimed that the two companies, which will have combined revenue of more than $30 billion, will have products that are capable of winning sales in markets worth $138 billion by 2020. Qualcomm forecast $500 million of annual cost savings.

The equity value of the transaction is $38.5 billion. Including debt, the enterprise value goes up to $47 billion.

Chief Financial Officer George Davis said the acquisition will add $11 billion of debt to Qualcomm’s balance sheet, which can rapidly improve by using the overseas cash it generates to pay down.

Mollenkopf said he will aim to combine the two companies and their products as quickly as he can and make sure that the management of the combined company has representatives from both sides.

Mollenkopf has more than $30 billion in cash reserves, most of which is held overseas.

NXP is projected to report 2016 sales of $9.48 billion, the average of analysts’ estimates from data compiled by Bloomberg.

By revenue, that makes it less than half the size of Qualcomm, which will report sales of $23.2 billion this year. The Dutch company has averaged about 11 percent growth over the past three years, while the U.S. chipmaker’s sales declined 5 percent last year, a collapse from a revenue increase of 30 percent in 2013.