Category: Chips

Flash Memory Summit 2016 – Consolidation?

FMS2016_BannerAd_300x250The Flash Memory Summit 16 will be convening at the Santa Clara Convention Center over August 9 -11, 2016. Flash memory is now established as a key technology enabling new designs for many products in the consumer, computer and enterprise markets.

Storage Crossover

The industry is at a critical juncture where the total cost of ownership for flash based SSD’s achieved crossover with hard disk drive equivalents last September as the enterprise storage medium of choice.

The fact that the number of producers is limited has altered the landscape of consumption with some analysts indicating that serious shortages will exist for some time to come. An interesting, but mitigating fact is that most of the analysts are not technical – the ones that we’ve talked to that have a technical bent are not so sanguine about the availability mix. One item that stands in the road to profits is the need for this next generation storage device to not only retain data but do so interactively without losing bits. The unrecoverable bit boogie man is now staring the industry down. The ability to store immense amounts of “ready data” for execution now depends on the technologies ability to reliably retain data.

All Flash Array producers are now entering the “really big data storage array” market – the battle has dropped down to the cost of storage per dollar creating a whole new category of marketing lows. 3D Flash is now so dense that failure modes are now dependent upon being aware of “how and when” the bits were used during the entire lifetime of the device.

Cork, Ireland NVMdurance was the first to understand this phenomenon and is now firmly embedded in their first customer Altera (now Intel). Pure and Nimble Storage are offering their services for their AFAs – seems that leasing AFA memory is a probable in the future of solid state storage. We’re still left reading the indemnification clauses of their contracts.

Poison Pill

Micron Technology filed with the SEC a poison pill last Friday. The buzz is that the company is once again in play. The likely suitor is none other than Intel according to the lead rumor. We will be talking with Micron and Intel at FMS 16 and although they’ll not say anything about what’s going on we’ll at the very least get to look into their pupils while they’re telling us…,

Nvidia releases answer to AMD’s Radeon RX 480

nvidiaNvidia just launched its Pascalish answer to AMD’s Radeon RX 480 mainstream card.

The GeForce GTX 1060 has about half of the resources of Nvidia’s super expensive GeForce GTX 1080 and the outfit claims it’s on par with a previous generation high-end GeForce GTX 980.

It runs on 120W and is a mix of low-power and high-performance. The new GeForce GTX 1060 features a new Pascal derivative GPU that’s somewhat smaller, called the GP106. It has 10 streaming multiprocessors (SM) with a total of 1280, single-precision CUDA cores and eight texture units.

The GeForce GTX 1060 also features six 32-bit memory controllers, for 192-bits in total. GeForce GTX 1060 cards with either 6GB or 3GB of GDDR5 memory will be available and offered performance that just misses the mark set by the pricier AMD Radeon R9 Nano.

The GeForce GTX 1060 has the largest leads over the Radeon RX 480 in the DirectX 11 tests, though the Radeon had a clear edge in OpenCL and managed to pull ahead in  some DirectX 12 tests.

The GeForce GTX 1060, however, consumes significantly less power than the Radeon RX 480 and is quieter too.

All up it means that Nvidia and AMD are squaring up with different offerings for a similar price

Samsung races ahead on mobiles

SamsungWhile the fruity cargo cult Apple flounders in the mobile area, its rival Samsung is doing rather well.

The outfit is poised to issue guidance for its best quarterly profit in more than two years, propelled by a surge in mobile earnings on the back of robust sales of its flagship Galaxy S7 smartphones.

The South Korean giant will disclose its estimates for second-quarter earnings on Thursday, with analysts predicting a strong mobile division contributed to a 13 percent jump in operating profit from the same period a year earlier.

Analysts are expecting to see a April-June operating profit of $6.8 billion which is the highest profit since January-March of 2014.  Even more oddly it is the mobile division which is making a lot of the cash

This is because Galaxy S7 sales are better than expected in the first half, and the semiconductor business is also outperforming rivals.

Samsung’s smartphone business had been squeezed before the start of this year between Apple  at the high end of the market, and Chinese rivals like Huawei in the budget segment. But the Galaxy S7 has provided a catalyst for the earnings rebound, likely putting the mobile business on track to record its first annual profit growth in three years.  Apple has also slumped in China and failed to come up with a new product for some time.

Some analysts say Samsung shipped around 16 million Galaxy S7s in April-June, with a higher-priced curved-screen version outselling its flat-screen counterpart and boosting margins. Lackluster sales of offerings from rivals such as Apple and LG Electronics also helped reduced marketing expenses, they said.

Samsung’s chip business has not been doing so well. Its quarterly profit sink to its lowest in nearly two years due to weak demand from makers of other smartphones and personal computers.

But signs of some price recovery for DRAM chips starting last month and Samsung’s dominance in the premium solid-state disc drive market with its 3D NAND chip production technology suggest a pickup in coming months, analysts said.

Polaris finally shines today

polarisAMD finally starts flogging its new RX 480 GPU today.

For those who came in late, the RX 480 uses the company’s latest Polaris architecture which is built lt on 14nm FinFET process technology.

The starting price is $199 for the 4GB model and $239 for the 8GB and has some interesting performance characteristics. Compared to the GeForce GTX 970 which sells for $280, the RX 480 performs is about five to ten percent better. But when it comes to DX12 games like Gears of War, Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider it is about 40 per cent faster.

Compared to previous AMD products, the RX 480 is as fast as a Radeon R9 390 but uses just 150 watts compared to 275 watts for the previous generation.

Rivals Nvidia are expected to have a competing product based on Pascal available sometime in July, so AMD’s advantage may be short-lived; but in the meantime, the Radeon RX 480 is clearly the best GPU for $200.

Of course the world is also waiting to see AMD’s entry into the CPU league tables with the much touted never seen Zen chip, which should be in the shops in December.

Apple not buying a lot of components

poison-appleIt looks like Apple has written off this year as an annus horribilis and is not buying nearly as many smartphone components.

According to Asian suppliers, Apple has cut the number of components down this quarter indicating that Apple things the market is going to be soft as a baby’s bottom.

The Tame Apple Press is having a job giving its favourite smartphone maker free publicity for the coming iPhone 7 because it looks like it is nearly identical to the iPhone 6S. It appears that Apple is not even trying.

Taiwanese chip firm Advanced Semiconductor Engineering warned that Apple was being more conservative in placing orders compared with last year.

Nikkei said that hat component suppliers in Taiwan would receive fewer orders from Apple in the second half of 2016.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs lowered its price target on Apple’s stock on worries about slowing growth in the smartphone industry.

At the time, the brokerage also lowered its fiscal 2016 forecast for iPhone shipments to 211 million units from 212 million units.

Apple reported its first-ever quarterly decline in iPhone sales in April and it is expected that the iPhone 7 will be a huge disappointment.  Apple’s shares have fallen 12.6 percent this year which is a little surprising given the amount of bad news the outfit has been doling out.

 

How Intel killed Microsoft’s Surface

microsoft-surface-3-02The dark satanic rumour mill has been noting how Microsoft’s popular Surface 3 is starting to disappear from the shelves.  All this suggests that Vole is planning to kill off the tablet.

However, it would appear that the Surface 3, which is a cheaper cut down version of the Surface Pro, might be a casualty of Intel’s Atexit earlier this year and its decision to cull Atom development.

The Surface Pro arrived last Spring with a Cherry Trail Atom under the bonnet. It was a serviceable, if not rather dull mobile chip.  Microsoft would normally be thinking of replacing it with something better about now and Intel would normally have complied by replacing it with something from the the “Broxton” family with a new Goldmont core.

Intel however gave up on most of its planned Broxton processors as it scaled back its investment in phone and tablet components. Some Airmont parts have been announced, but they have all been aimed at low-end desktops and laptops with processors in the 4-6 watt space, not tablets with 2W processors such as the Surface 3.

Intel could offer Vole its Core M parts, which would have given the Surface a substantial performance upgrade. However, that would represent price hike from $37 for the Atom to about $250 for a core M.  AMD does not have a chip in this range, and an ARM chip would break most of the Surface’s Windows software.

Qualcomm asks for Chinese court help

qualcomQualcomm wants a Chinese court to get a local smartphone maker, Meizu, to agree to licensing terms for patents that the company broadly agreed to with the Chinese government last year.

The chip company s has asked the Beijing Intellectual Property Court for a ruling that the terms of a patent licence it offered Meizu comply with China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, and the US company’s “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing obligations.”

Qualcomm alleges that Meizu in Zhuhai is refusing to sign the patent agreement although over 100 players, including top Chinese phone makers, have accepted the terms under a new rectification plan agreed with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) last year.

Meizu has more than 1,000 employees and sells its smartphones through 600 retail stores. It claims a global presence in Hong Kong, Russia, Israel and Ukraine, according to its website.

Last year, Qualcomm paid a $975 million fine to Chinese authorities for alleged monopolistic business practices relating to its patent licensing business. It also agreed to modify its business practices.

The outfit has been doing its best building its bridges in China, including by setting up a server chipset design and sales unit with the Guizhou provincial government.

The company has also announced other collaborations in the country that would help it gain access to the local market, including for the local production of its Snapdragon mobile processors by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation.

Qualcomm charged Meizu with “unfairly expanding its business through the use of Qualcomm’s innovations without compensating Qualcomm for the use of Qualcomm’s valuable technologies.” It added that Meizu’s move to use the technologies without a license was also unfair to other licensees.

 

China makes supercomputer without US chips

Mao Tse Tung - Wikimedia CommonsThe People’s Republic of China has made a huge supercomputer without needing to buy any US chips.

The Sunway TaihuLight China has 10.65 million compute cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors and there is not a single US computer which matches it. The TaihuLight sticks two fingers up at the US for banning the sale of Intel’s Xeon chips to China.

The super computer has a theoretical peak performance is 124.5 petaflops and it is the first system to exceed 100 petaflops.

TaihuLight is installed at China’s National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, uses ShenWei CPUs developed by Jiangnan Computing Research Lab in Wuxi. The operating system is a Linux-based Chinese system called Sunway Raise.

It is used for advanced manufacturing, earth systems modelling, life science and big data applications.

The US initiated this ban because China, it claimed, was using its Tianhe-2 system for nuclear explosive testing activities. The US stopped live nuclear testing in 1992 and now relies on computer simulations. Critics in China suspected the U.S. was acting to slow that nation’s supercomputing development efforts.

The fastest US supercomputer, number 3 on the Top500 list, is the Titan, a Cray supercomputer at US Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory with a theoretical peak of about 27 petaflops.

1,000 core chip developed

many-coreA team of boffins has emerged from its smoke filled labs with a microchip with 1,000 independent programmable processors.

The team, from the University of California, Davis, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, developed the energy-efficient 621 million transistor “KiloCore” chip so that it could manage 1.78 trillion instructions per second.

Team leader Bevan Baas, professor of electrical and computer engineering said that it could be the world’s first 1,000-processor chip and it is the highest clock-rate processor ever designed in a university.

While other multiple-processor chips have been created, none exceed about 300 processors. Most of those were created for research purposes and few are sold commercially. IBM, using its 32 nm CMOS technology, fabricated the KiloCore chip.

Because each processor is independently clocked, it can shut itself down to further save energy when not needed, said graduate student Brent Bohnenstiehl, who developed the principal architecture. Cores operate at an average maximum clock frequency of 1.78 GHz, and they transfer data directly to each other rather than using a pooled memory area that can become a bottleneck for data.

The 1,000 processors can execute 115 billion instructions per second while dissipating only 0.7 Watts which mean it can be powered by a single AA battery. The KiloCore chip executes instructions more than 100 times more efficiently than a modern laptop processor.

The processor is already adapted for wireless coding/decoding, video processing, encryption, and others involving large amounts of parallel data such as scientific data applications and datacentre work.

AMD shows off Polaris-based Radeon RX 470 and RX 460

4528082378_4d5b9fb99e_zAMD has been showing off its latest Polaris based GPUs at E3 2016.

For those who came in late, Polaris is AMD’s bright new hope in the GPU world – a bit like Zen is for the CPU, only it appears to exist whereas Zen doesn’t.

THe Radeon RX 470 and RX 460  join the recently announced RX 480 as part of the company’s new Polaris family. Polaris is AMD’s newest GPU micro-architecture, which is based on the 14nm FinFet production process.

AMD is not telling us the prices of its new GPU, but it is possible to have stab at it. The  RX 480 is made for 1440p gaming, and the RX 470 will focus on delivering a “refined, power-efficient HD gaming” experience. The RX 460 will offer a “cool and efficient solution for the ultimate e-sports gaming experience.”

The 4GB version of the RX 480 will start out at $200, it’s safe to assume that these two other cards will launch at lower price points.

AMD says the chips are extremely thin, offering a very low Z-height, and will fit into thin and light gaming notebooks.

The entire new RX line will also support a wide variety of features that include DX12, Vulkan, HDR, HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.3/1.4, and H.265 encoding/decoding.

There is no release day  but since the RX 480 is scheduled to launch on June 29 the other two should be soon after. AMD is claiming that card outperforms $500 graphics cards in VR.