Tag: Elpida

Apple Watch taken apart

WatchABI Research has taken apart an Apple Watch but said it was a difficult job.

The firm said the design is based on a custom Apple microprocessor – the APL 0778 – but also includes components from Broadcom, NXP, AMS, IDT, Elpida, Sanddisk and some ADI capacitive components.

Jim Mielke, VP of engineering at ABI, said the design is very different from Apple smartphones and includes chips that you just wouldn’t find in an ordinary watch.

“Judging by the complexity of the printed circuit board (PCB) and the number of parts on the PCB, one might think the Apple watch is a full fledged cellular connected watch but in fact connectivity is limited to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC,” he said.

The touch controllers from ADI and that’s a change for the company which hasn’t been very active in wins for mobile devices over the last three to five years, he added.

ABI has published a photograph which shows the PCB of an Apple Watch.Photo courtesy of ABI Research

3D IC market to see stable growth through 2016

The global 3D integrated circuit market is forecast to grow by 19.7 percent between 2012 and 2016, with the major growth driver being strong demand for memory products, particularly flash memory and DRAM.

3D integrated circuits help improve the performance and reliability of memory chips, and as an added benefit the resulting chips are smaller and cheaper. However, chips based on 3D circuits face thermal conductivity problems which might pose a challenge to further growth.

According to Infiniti Research, the biggest 3D IC vendors at the moment are Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE), Samsung., STMicroelectronics and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). IBM, Elpida, Intel and Micron are also working on products based on 3D ICs.

Intel was a 3D IC pioneer and it demoed a 3D version of the Pentium 4 back in 2004. The overly complicated chip offered slight performance and efficiency improvements over the 2D version of the chip, which really isn’t saying much since Prescott-based Pentium 4s were rubbish.

The focus then shifted on memory chips and some academic implementations of 3D processors, but progress has been relatively slow, hence any growth is more than welcome. 

Korean chipmakers dominate DRAM market

Korean DRAM manufacturers have a virtual stranglehold on the industry and as of Q4 2012 they control 80 percent of the market.

DRAM sales have recovered thanks to strong demand for smartphones, growing 21.4 percent sequentially in the last quarter of 2012. Samsung and SK Hynix saw their quarterly revenue shoot up by 26.9 and 36.5 percent respectively. The two companies currently account for around 78.5 percent of the market. What’s more, they are doing even better in the mobile DRAM industry, which is set to grow further.

Elpida ranked third with 11.3 percent growth, thanks to large shipments from Apple. Due to Qualcomm’s decision to use Package on Package memory, Elpida is likely to play a significant role in the high end smartphone market. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 is out and the 800 is coming in a few months. Both chips are expected to do very well in the high end, boosting the outlook for Elpida.

Micron is focusing its efforts on storage in mid to low end smartphones, so it is losing ground in the DRAM market. It currently accounts for just 1.3 percent of the market.

Taiwanese players are trying to increase their share in the mobile DRAM market and cash in on the smartphone boom, but so far their efforts have not been very successful, Evertiq reports.

According to a recent ICS insights report, the market for tablet MPUs is forecast to grow 50 percent this year, quicker than any other semicon segment. The same goes for smartphone processors, and, of course, DRAM.

The market for DRAM chips is forecast to grow about nine percent this year, mainly thanks to higher prices. IHS iSuppli is even more upbeat and it reckons DRAM shipments will increase 30 percent this year. 

Mobile DRAM is becoming an increasingly important market segment and it currently accounts for more than a quarter of DRAM revenue. Furthermore, mobile DRAM prices tend to be more stable than those of PC DRAM, which is good news for manufacturers. 

Elpida accused of dodgy deals with US assets

Elpida’s US bondholders have told a court that the bankrupt Japanese chipmaker had carried out “unauthorised” dealings involving its US assets.

The bondholders, who are fighting a sale to Micron, are to ask a US bankruptcy court for greater oversight of Elpida’s US assets.

According to Reuters, the hearing in Delaware’s bankruptcy court in Wilmington was cancelled in favor of talks with the bondholders.

Elpida proposed the sale for about $2.5 billion to Boise, Idaho-based Micron as a way to repay creditors.

But the holders of Elpida’s $5.6 billion in bonds were somewhat upset, saying that it was a sweetheart deal with little oversight, and besides, the company was worth a lot more than that.

The sale falls under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo District Court, which is overseeing Elpida’s bankruptcy. But Elpida asked Delaware’s bankruptcy court to protect its American assets from creditors under Chapter 15 of the US bankruptcy code.

The bondholders want the court to allow them to force Elpida’s US subsidiary into US bankruptcy.

But the news that there were “four unauthorised transactions” came in response to Elpida’s request to file a status report under court blessed secrecy.

The bondholders said disclosure of the transactions was critical for “stakeholders” to understand their rights in the case. It is not clear what the four transactions actually were. 

Dying Elpida caught up in shareholder inferno

Shareholders are fighting to keep Micron from getting its paws on the failed chipmaker Elpida.

According to Reuters, the group has raised $383 million to give Elpida a loan to help it restructure.

If Elpida accepts the loan then it may not have to be bought out by Micron.

According to Reuters the loan offer by the bond holders will be presented to the Tokyo District Court today.

Elpida is bankrupt and Micron has offered to buy the chipmaker for $750 million. The bondholders are furious, saying that it undervalues the company’s assets. The  group, which has not identified its members, believed Elpida was worth $3.82 billion dollars.

But the company, which is Japan’s last remaining DRAM maker, has had several bail out plans before the government washed its hands of the company.

The Micron deal means that creditors will get paid

Micron had agreed to acquire Elpida equity and promised to pay creditors $1.78 billion in annual instalments until 2019.

The shareholders insist that Elpida could restructure itself on its own, but it will seek an alternative financial sponsor who would be willing to inject cash, the source said. 

Micron buys Elpida for $750 million

Micron has written a cheque for the Japanese chipmaker Elpida Memory for about $750 million in cash.

According to the Wall Street Journal, while Elpida has been losing money faster than a tech hack in Vegas, the move makes Micron the second largest memory chipmaker behind Samsung.

Elpida has been desperately looking for an investor to sponsor its restructuring after tough market conditions and global competition drove it to file for bankruptcy protection. Its previous sponsor, the Japanese government, decided that it had wasted enough taxpaper money on the outfit. It had $5.6 billion in liabilities when it went bankrupt.

Under the deal, Micron will also pay Elpida’s creditors about $1.75 billion in future annual instalments through 2019. Micron will also buy a 24 percent stake in Taiwan-based Rexchip Electronics from Powerchip Technology for $334 million. Elpida owns about 65 percent of Rexchip.

The money will come from cashflow generated by Micron’s payment for foundry services provided by Elpida.

Despite its woes Elpida had a 13.1 percent share of the global market for DRAM chips, while Micron had an 11.6 percent share.

The move takes their share of the DRAM market above Hynix’s 23 percent but still well below Samsung’s 42.2 percent market share.

Micron CEO Mark Durcan said the deal would create an “industry-leading pure-play memory company,” combining the two firms’ research and development and manufacturing scale.

The deal needs the approval of Elpida’s creditors, the Tokyo District Court and other antitrust agencies. 

UCL makes ultra-fast ReRAM chip breakthrough

Scientists have made steps towards ultra-fast ReRAM chips that could soon be used in memory devices, as well as potentially finding applications in CPUs.

Researchers at University College London claim to have created a purely silicon oxide-based ReRAM chip that can operate in ambient conditions, with much more efficient switching.

The various types of memory such as flash, SRAM or DRAM, or countless others, are all highly specialised in their abilities. Each has their upsides and downsides and generally find themselves tailored towards certain applications. DRAM speed, for instance, is counterbalanced by its leaky capacitors and volatility.

However, researchers are looking towards a wide variety of potential technologies that could offer the full range of benefits including high speeds, non-volatility and dense storage.

Resistive RAM or ReRAM memory chips are one of them.  ReRAM chips are based on memristor technology that is able to ‘remember’ resistance changes when a voltage is applied and then turned off.

The researchers say that the ReRAM memory chips need just a thousandth of the energy than standard flash memory chips, and are roughly 100 times faster.

The team at UCL developed the new ReRAM structure by accident while attempting to produce silicon based LEDs.  Up until now, ReRAM has been developed using metal oxides which are more difficult to produce and are less easily integratable.

Instead, the team came up with a silicon oxide device that can quickly and predictably form filaments of silicon that change resistivity, meaning that the semiconducting materials can ‘switch’ from one state to another.

The chips could be produced transparently which would allow, among other applications, use in see-through smartphone touch screens. 

The team is already in talks with major semiconductor companies with regards to the patented device. It is not surprising considering that ReRAM has already piqued the interest of the likes of Toshiba, Sharp and Elpida.  

One of the researchers, Tony Kenyon, told TechEye that firms have been working on releasing metal oxide based devices – citing Hynix as an example – but the silicon versions will take up to three years to become available.

According to Kenyon, ReRAM memory has been benchmarked against flash memory, and offers significant benefits.

“It is at least a hundred times faster than flash, and  the energy required to switch is very very low, by a factor of ten thousand or so,”  Kenyon said, speaking with TechEye.

“The other nice thing is that our devices can be stacked in three dimensions – it is potentially very high density,” he said.

With memristor properties of variable resistance, which makes the device behave like a neuron, it could be possible to perform both CPU and memory tasks, he said.

“In a conventional processdor you would have processing unit, and the majority of chip nowadays is in memory, and the logic processor will be moving data in and out of memory, processing it and moving it out again,” Kenyon said.

“Using our devices you can leave the devices where it is, you don’t have to move it around so potentially it is much faster and much more efficient,” he said. “It provides both functions.”

Samsung slumps as Apple props up Elpida

After failing to do any serious harm to its old chum Samsung in the court room, Apple has done more damage by walking away and propping up Elpida.

Shares in Samsung slumped more than six percent costing the company $10 billion on the back of news that Apple had placed huge orders with Elpida.

The source of the news was DigiTimes, but it appears to have been believed, perhaps because no one believed that Apple would stay with Samsung after its court battles..

The orders were for mobile DRAM and were with Elpida’s 12-inch plant in Hiroshima, Japan. Basically the move will provide half the facility’s total chip production.

Hynix shares also dropped by nine percent. Samsung is the world’s biggest DRAM maker and its shares fell.

Choi Do-yeon, an analyst at LIG Investment & Securities, told Reuters that it was more about Apple not wanting Samsung and Hynix to dominate the chip market, so it wants to keep the bankrupt Elpida running.

Micron is in talks to acquire Elpida’s business as the Japanese firm, so a merged Micron-Elpida could put the fear of god into the South Korean memory chip makers. 

Micron to buy Elpida

Micron has won the right to negotiate exclusively to buy Elpida after offering $2.5 billion for the bankrupt Japanese chipmaker.

Elpida has been searching for an investor to sponsor its restructuring after filing for bankruptcy protection in February with $5.6 billion in debt.

Micron also offered to keep Elpida’s two main factories in Japan open and to guarantee jobs for the company’s current employees.

It outbid Hynix, which dropped out of the race on Friday.

According to Reuters, Micron’s offer was accepted by Elpida’s trustees and management.

A final restructuring plan will still require the approval of a local court and Elpida’s creditors who might not have been happy at a low bid for the company.

The Japanese government will be happy to see the back of the failed company. It had propped up Elpida with public funds to save what was billed as the country’s last hope for the DRAM market.

Elpida ranks third in the DRAM market, but analysts think that in the long term Elpida DRAM chips will do well as mobile device demand increases. 

Toshiba walks away from Elpida bidding

Toshiba has given up on bidding for bankrupt Japanese chip maker Elpida.

This means that only a handful of foreign firms including SK Hynix and Micron Technology are still in the running to buy the company.

Toshiba walked because a joint bid with potential partners, Hynix, did not work out.

Toshiba investors breathed a sigh of relief when the news leaked out. Many thought that the company would be better off focusing on its thriving NAND flash memory rather than chasing after a money black hole like Elpida.

Toshiba pulled out of DRAM chip-making a decade ago by selling its US DRAM facilities to Micron.

Since Toshiba announced that it would would bid for Elpida, its shares had fallen 12 percent which is a sign that few thought it was a good idea.

Toshiba apparently was interested in Elpida’s engineering and marketing expertise but did not actually want its assets. It was working with Hynix on  a joint bid.

Hynix, however, claimed that the talks on a joint bid were not serious, particularly when  one of the negotiators pulled out a Groucho Marx nose and started singing “What ever it is I am against it.” Actually we made that last bit up.

Elpida, trails Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix in DRAMs with a market share around 12 percent, filed for creditor protection in late February with $5.6 billion in debt.

Those buying it are more likely to be interested in the DRAM chips it makes for mobile devices.