Category: Chips

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.

Samsung starts mass production using 10nm foundry process

blacksmith1Tech giant Samsung has announced that its foundry business has started mass production of semiconductors using 10 nm process technology.

While there is no word if the chips will come with their own fire extinguisher, Samsung sang that it was the first company to mass produce using 10nm.

Samsung said in a statement a tech product launching early next year will use chips made with its 10-nanometre production technology without specifying the device.

According to the Electronic Times Samsung will be the sole contract manufacturer of Qualcomm high-end Snapdragon 830 chips using 10-nanometre production technology and these processors will be used in half of Samsung’s next Galaxy S smartphones expected to launch in early 2017.

IBM, Google and seven others gang up on Intel’s datacentres

Piranha-3dBiggish Blue, Google and seven others have linked up to give Intel a good kicking in the datacentres.

The gang has come up with an open specification that can boost datacentre server performance by up to ten times.  Dubbed the Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (OpenCAPI), this is an open forum to provide a high bandwidth, low latency open interface design specification.

The open interface will help corporate and cloud data centres to speed up big data, machine learning, analytics and other emerging workloads.

The consortium plans to make the OpenCAPI specification available to the public before the end of the year and expects servers and related products based on the new standard in the second half of 2017, it said in a statement.

Chipzilla is not signing up to the forum, but them it has stayed away from other open standards  and technology groups such as CCIX and Gen-Z.  It prefers to keep all its technology to itself.

However Doug Balog, general manager for IBM Power, said that with all the AI, machine learning and advanced analytics kicking around,  datacentres can no longer rely on one company alone to drive innovation.

 

Good chip engineers are hard to find

FUTURE HORIZONS ARMENIA 2016 Mentor Graphics has offices all over the world but we talked to the head of its Armenian office and she had plenty to say about finding top engineers.

Irina Dumanyan said that that she looks after 150 people in Armenia and also runs an internship programme.

Mentor has a set of different projects which are worked on by people in its offices all around the world.

But its Armenia office was never in the business of hiring cheap labour.

“Engineers are hard to find, that’s why we established the internship programme,” she said. The company puts its internees on live projects.

She said universities needed to get more savvy about what graduates will actually need in the real world.

“The university mentality should be changed and lots more investment is required,” she said.  It’s hard for Mentor to cooperate with the Armenian state university.

Chip industry still suffering from economic crunch

snail-8296a552f7bd1064368205306ff8a3c7c7bdc7c4-s900-c85The chip industry is still in the doldrums and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

That’s the verdict of Malcolm Penn, CEO and chairman of UK semiconductor analysts Future Horizons.

At a semiconductor conference in London, Penn said that the chip industry is driven by four factors: the economy, fab capacity, unit demand and average selling prices (ASPs).

Penn said: “The economy is in a mess and it’s not getting any better. It’s the ‘wait one more quarter’ syndrome. Nobody reacts when the data is good because they don’t believe it.”

He said that 2016 seemed to be an almost exact replay of 2015. Nobody believes in the numbers any more, he said.

“No-one is spending money. There are no new killer products on the horizon. There is nothing, nothing at all.”

Killer apps can’t be predicted and have always been a surprise, Penn said. The outlook is somewhat grim.

“No one knows how to restart the engines.

Regionally, he said, the picture is also pessimistic. “Japan is a complete disaster. China is on a downward trend. Russia has shot itself in the foot,” he said. “Newly industrialised Asian countries have run out of steam. The overall trend is decidedly bad.”

So what of the future?

Historically, integrated circuits (ICs) have shown a 10 percent growth but, he said, the current trend is low with only a six percent figure in 2016. He said: “PC and smartphone IC shipments are still relatively very small. Unit demand is driven by the economy, and the PC market is as dead as a dodo.”

The figures over the last four years show a steady decline, 9.5 percent growth in 2013, 8.3 percent in 2014, 5.1 percent in 2015 and six percent this year.

He said: “Fab capacity is in the hands of the few. No there is no excess capacity. It takes a year to add new capacity and the lead time has never changed.”

As far as capital expenditure (CapEx) goes, Intel, Samsung and TSMC rule, he said at 60 percent CapEx. That’s not true for Global Foundries (GloFo) which is only nine percent.

He said: “A capacity shortage is waiting to happen. At some point of time there will be a shortage and it will catch everyone by surprise.” And most of the bigger fabs are in earthquake zones.

He’s gloomy about next year too. In 2017 he expects a weak PC and smartphone market.

“The economy is still horrid. There’s no life in the semiconductor business.”

Samsung dumps ASL stake

holland1Chipmaker Samsung is reducing its investment in Dutch chip-equipment supplier ASML.

Samsung acquired three percent of Dutch chip-equipment supplier ASML in 2012 with the idea that the money spent would help the company speed up its R&D.int extreme ultraviolet lithography.

However other companies who made significant investments in ASML for the same reason, including Intel and TSMC and Inte have started walking away. In fact TSMC sold its entire stake last year. Samsung has now confirmed that it’s dumping half of its stake in ASML via a private placement that’s valued at around $681 million.

This means selling off 6.3 million shares in ASML which will account for almost half of its 3 percent stake in the company. It will remain heavily invested in the outfit and there does not appear to be any bad blood between the two companies. It was reported in May Samsung has signed a deal with ASML to purchase the latest extreme ultraviolet equipment for mass production of its 7-nanometer process.

The company is expected to complete installation of this advanced machinery by the first half of 2017, making it the first time Samsung deploys EUV equipment in its chip-making process.

Why Kaby Lake and Zen is Windows 10 only

Windows 10Microsoft raised a few eyebrows when it announced that only Windows 10 will support Intel’s and AMD’s next-generation processor microarchitectures – codenamed Kaby Lake and Zen.

It appears that there are a few features on Kaby Lake and  Zen that require significant updates to Windows 10 to optimally function.

Kaby Lake uses Intel’s Speed Shift technology that make it possible to change power states more quickly than Skylake. Because Kaby Lake can make Speed Shift transitions faster, 7th Gen Core processors based on the architecture can increase and decrease clocks quickly. Speed Shift is hardware enabled but it uses the OS to function properly.

Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology 3.0  with Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology improves single-thread performance by identifying the fastest core on a particular processor die and prioritising critical workloads for that core. This pushes up the processor’s frequency when needed and  workloads are also directed to the fastest possible core available. Support for that technology needs to be in the operating system.

AMD’s Zen-based processors have fine-grained clock gating with multi-level regions throughout the chip. Zen will bring in newer Simultaneous Multi-Threading technology for AMD chips. Microsoft will  have to make updates to the Windows kernel and system scheduler, which is more involved than a driver update. Vole did something similar to add proper support for Bulldozer-based processors with Windows 7.

So as far as AMD, Microsoft and Intel are concerned getting rid of support for older systems makes perfect sense. You can’t lock these chips into something which was released seven years ago. Windows 8 is similar to Windows 10 but about as popular as the Boston Strangler it is just not worth trying to update.

While corporate customers might like to remain on Windows 7 and incorporate next-gen hardware into their infrastructure, there will not be many of them. Older versions of Windows and alternative operating systems will still install and run on Kaby Lake and Zen, but they just won’t do the cool stuff.