Tag: rambus

Rambus to sell its own chips

Rambus HQRambus, which develops chip technology that it then licenses to others to manufacture, is to start selling chips under its own name.

The memory chips are aimed at enterprises and will be called the RB26. It’s already started sampling the chips to customers. Rambus said in a statement that the RB26 is a memory module chipset for data intensive applications including real time analytics.

Rambus has a long record of legal action against other chip manufacturers for allegedly breaching its intellectual property designs.

Nvidia, Micron, Hynix and others have all experienced the joy of being sued by Rambus and for some time its entire business model appeared to come from royalties it had won through the courts.

It started in 1990 as a company that designed chips which it then licensed, a little like successful British company ARM. The difference between the two is that ARM doesn’t have a taste for litigation.

It’s not clear which foundry will manufacture the Rambus chips, but they’re expected to be available later this year.

Rambus will show off its server memory chipset at this week’s Intel Developer Forum.

Hardware encryption revenues climb

Achilles - Wikimedia CommonsAs our story today about a critical bug in Windows software demonstrates, it’s software that is really the Achilles’ Heel, or Hell for a computer system.

And people are beginning to realise that’s the case, because according to a report by US based market research company ABI Research, enterprises are moving to hardware as a much safer way of preserving their systems’ integrity.

ABI said that hardware based encryption bypasses many of the problems associated with software and doesn’t depend on any software or operating systems that enterprises use.

It estimates that in 2015 revenues from sales of hardware based encryption devices will reach $36.4 billion worldwide.

The major players in the game are Imation, WinMagic, Vormetric, SanDisk, Seagate, Rambus and Safenet.

Analyst at ABI believe that one of the more lucrative areas will be healthcare, but government, defence and other authorities are also considering adopting such devices, largely because of legislative requirements and protocols.

And other target customers for the vendors include comms, automotive, and transport.

Rambus and Micron settle at last

Chipmaker Micron and the former chip designer turned patent troll Rambus have finally ended a 12 year court battle.

The two have been regulars in court since 1990. Rambus sought licence fees and threatened infringement lawsuits against memory makers who turned to the popular SDRAM standard over its own proprietary RDRAM spec.

Rambus insisted that its patents and inventions also applied to SDRAM. Now the two sides have agreed to a broad patent cross licence agreement that grants Micron the right to use any Rambus patent for the manufacture of specified integrated circuit products, including memory products. Rambus will receive quarterly royalty payments for the next seven years, of up to $10 million per quarter, along with a rolling 12-month cap fixed at $40 million, or $280 million during the initial term.

After seven years Micron will have the option to extend the agreement for additional renewal periods under initial terms. In addition, this cross patent license agreement deems all outstanding patent and antitrust claims null and void, including those with Elpida, which Micron acquired earlier this year.

Dr. Ron Black, president and chief executive officer at Rambus said the agreement puts years of legal disputes behind both companies and opens doors for future cooperation.

It has been a good year for Rambus. It also settled with Hynix earlier this year as part of a $240 million patent licensing agreement. Rambus has also made licence agreements with Nvidia and Broadcom over the years. 

Freescale picks up eRRAM IP from Rambus

Long term court rivals Rambus and Freescale appear to be getting close after announcing that Freescale will get access to Rambus’ patents for memory controllers and serial links.

Additionally, the expanded agreement provides Freescale with the ability to collaborate on Rambus’ resistive memory technology for embedded applications (eRRAM).

Kevin Donnelly, senior vice president and general manager of the Memory and Interface Division at Rambus said that the agreement with Freescale exemplifies the company’s ability to provide additional value to Freescale with eRRAM technology.

David Kramer, director, Freescale Discovery Labs, Freescale Semiconductor said that Rambus’ resistive memory eRRAM technology was useful for non-volatile memory in the embedded processing market.

Obviously Freescale has written a cheque to keep the infamous patent troll at arm’s length for a few more years and it is all surprisingly co-operative since the days when Rambus declared war on the outfit.

Rambus had filed a complaint with the ITC last year as part of a major offensive against the semiconductor sector, alleging that Freescale, Broadcom, LSI, MediaTek, NvidiaSTMicroelectronics were infringing its memory controller patents.

Freescale settled  causing Broadcom to object and ask to see a copy of the agreement.

It has been a bad year for Rambus. One of its key patents, patent 6,591,353, otherwise called “Protocol for Communication with Dynamic Memory”, has been invalidated on the basis of prior art, much to the joy of Nvidia. 

Rambus settles patent dispute with SK Hynix

Memory outfit turned patent troll Rambus has penned a $240 million patent licensing agreement with SK Hynix.

The dispute dragged on for 13 years, which means it dates back to the turn of the millennium, when Rambus was still relevant. The five-year agreement will settle all outstanding disputes between the two companies, Rambus CEO Ron Black said.

Although Rambus says it likes to settle rather than litigate, it also warned that it would aggressively defend its IP if needed, which comes as no surprise as that’s practically the only thing Rambus has done over the last decade.

Rambus still has patent disputes with Micron Technology and STMicroelectronics over DRAM and SoC technology. However, it has made peace with LSI, Fujitsu Semiconductor, Nvidia, MediaTek and Samsung, IDG reports

Rambus is in hot water

It looks like chipmaker turned patent troll Rambus is in hot water with the courts.

A US Judge has ruled that the company destroyed records that could have been evidence in its patent dispute with South Korea’s Hynix Semiconductor.

The court has not yet decided on a penalty for the American firm, but Hynix is confident that the ruling will “substantially limit” the royalties it will be required to pay Rambus for infringing on the company’s patents.

Hynix had been on the back foot in the case since Judge Ronald Whyte of the US District Court for the Northern District of California said that Rambus’ patents should still be seen as valid.

However, Judge Whyte said that Rambus’ destruction of evidence “should preclude it from entitlement to a royalty that places Hynix at a competitive disadvantage”.

Both companies have been told to come up with a figure of what they believe would be a reasonable royalty rate for the patents.

Rambus General Counsel Thomas Lavelle told Reuters  that this was a positive result as it is consistent with what it had been seeking “reasonable compensation for the use of our patented inventions.”

Whyte had ordered Hynix to pay Rambus around $397 million for infringing on DRAM patents. 

Rambus loses patent suit against LSI and STMicroelectronics

Rambus has lost a suit against chip makers LSI and STMicroelectronics. The company, which sometimes faces accusations of being a patent troll, was dealt a blow after the US International Trade Commission ruled that the pair did not infringe on any of the company’s patents.

Rambus went after the chip makers claiming that they had infringed on patents relating to
chipset communication and controlling of memory and digital transmitters.

However, the ITC stood up to the company and said that some patents were unenforceable. It has now terminated the investigation, which is sure to be a bitter pill to swallow.

The battle began back in December 2010 when Rambus went on a suing spree – filing patent infringement suits left, right and centre. In its firing line were Freescale, Broadcom, MediaTek and Nvidia, which were forced to settle and sign licence agreement deals.

However, the ITC didn’t make a judgement on LSI and STMicroelectronics, which continued fighting until yesterday.

Rambus isn’t one to shy away from the courts, however as of late judges have put a stop on its success. Back in November it lost a costly  $3.95 billion jury trial over its allegations that Micron and Hynix Semiconductor conspired to revent its memory chips from becoming an industry standard.

At the time its shares fell from $14 to $4.

MediaTek signs patent deal with Rambus

Rambus has announced that MediaTek has signed a patent licensing agreement covering its integrated circuit IP.

In a statement, the firm said it is “pleased to sign the agreement with MediaTek” over the “broad range” of patents at the centre of licensing negotiations.

The two have agreed to a five year licensing deal which will tie up all outstanding patent claims, settling any previous barneys over the use of Rambus’ patents. Other terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but you can wager a decent amount of hard cash.

Sharon Holt, a senior VP at Rambus, said that the firm was committed to ensuring greater flexibility in the system on chip (SoC) market. As long as it gets its fair share of the proceeds.

Rambus has been on MediaTek’s case for a while now, with the US International Trade Commission looking into a a mass of litigation that the firm started back in 2010.

34 companies, including MediaTek, were part of a probe, though the ITC ruled last week that MediaTek had not been in violation of Rambus’ patent rights in that case.

Rambus also recently announced that it had begun a search for a successor to its CEO Harold Hughes, who is planning on retiring from his position.  It has been said that Hughes will stay in his position at the firm until a replacement is found.

Tablets and smartphones: Why PC vendors should panic

The PC industry has very little going for it right now, with slow PC sales, rising component prices, government and businesses slashing IT spending leaving the end user to pick up the slack – right in the middle of a recession.

Bluntly put, 2011 has not been kind to the PC industry, and the outlook remains doom-and-gloom for 2012, which has prompted widespread cuts, slimming down of inventory, product cancellations, postponement, shoring up expenditure and a general caution for the first half of this year.

The UK, in particular, has felt the decline of the desktop PC, reflected by a sharp decrease in PC shipments in the last quarter of 2011. Notebooks and desktops slipped 19.6 percent year on year, according to Gartner’s latest data. In fact, most analysts are predicting that 2012 will be slightly worse in western countries than in emerging markets, PC-wise, so vendors are lumbering like the proverbial dinossaurs in the tar pits.

Continuing the trend, the consumer – not the enterprise – is driving technology consumption. In fact, the  consumer is driving it to such a point that we have given up on bulky desktop PCs and are willingly going for the much-prized smaller, handier and infinitely more portable tablet PC or smartphone without thinking twice.

“Despite aggressive pricing and special holiday deals for PCs, consumers’ attention was caught by other devices, such as smartphones, media tablets and e-readers,” said Meike Escherich, principal analyst at Gartner.


2012 – Year of the Tablet

While traditional PC integrators are struggling to make ends meet and support their enterprise customers and strategies, the tablet business has projected into the foreground a number of foundries, semiconductor- and fabless design businesses. Only a few notable exceptions in the PC world have managed to adapt and pre-empt the changing market conditions. Of these, Apple and Nvidia stand out the most.

Apple, living off the quasi-religious devotion of its followers, has had wild success with its iPhones and iPads. It is expected to announce on 7 March the iPad 3, which has left so far a slightly underwhelming feeling as rumours suggest it won’t feature a new design of the iPad 2’s A5 SoC, but a tweaked version.

Fortunately for Apple, a lot of its customers don’t care about what goes on in the background.

Over 70 percent of Apple’s revenues now come from iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPad, and this does not even take into account iTunes revenues.

With desktop, server and notebook Macs now accounting for just 14 percent of the company’s total revenues, this adds more weight to the alleged Apple ARM notebook, forcibly hooking its fate to iOS.

It isn’t surprising that, of Apple’s record $46.33 billion revenues from last year, it made $13.06 billion in profit.

One of the most resounding names in the PC graphics industry – Nvidia – has also managed to navigate these dire straits by expanding its business concern into mobile graphics and then into system-on-chip designs based on ARM architecture.

Nvidia’s Tegra is now positioned shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Texas Instruments (OMAP), Samsung (Exynos), Qualcomm (Snapdragon) and Apple (A-series), and has raked in for the company, in 2011 alone, almost $600 million in revenue.

Nvidia will be announcing several Tegra 3-based products with its partners next week at MWC and expects the revenue growth in this segment to be a healthy 50 percent. Overall, the outlook is much more favourable today than a year ago when Tegra was still confronted with scepticism from handset makers.

So, what of Intel? Intel’s push into the portable business is coming to fruition with the forthcoming announcement of both smartphone and tablet PCs based on its Medfield design. Ironically, firmly rooted in the Intel and AMD rivalry, PC vendors will have Intel as their only option in moving into the tablet market without taking more risks.

Shipping through its traditional PC partners, the same ones who’ve struggled to shift into the tablet gear, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the likes of Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Dell and Acer to jump on the tablet bandwagon.

Even if you’re sceptical of Intel’s ability to pull off an x86 device like Medfield, don’t underestimate the depth of Intel’s pockets and the strength of co-marketing.

Two tablet PC vendors in particular have locked themselves in deadly combat, to the point where you can hardly distinguish the combatants: Barnes and Noble announced its Nook Tablet 8GB, which faces off squarely with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, same price, same specs, mostly the same of everything, at already affordable prices. Your choice of tablet will fall on your choice of book store.


The company formerly known as 3DLabs

One dark horse may surprise many onlookers sometime soon: ZiiLabs , formerly known as 3DLabs, a subsidiary of Creative Technologies, has penned a deal with the Chinese government to supply the HanZpad. Han, being Chinese for, erm, Chinese.

The HanZpad will be using an as-yet undisclosed homebrew Chinese OS and its own “stemcell” processor, the ZMS-40. The ZMS-40 is a quad-core ARM A9 design with an array of 96 “stemcell processors”, not unlike shaders on a GPU, that accelerate multimedia processing. It also benefits from having Creative X-Fi technology integrated into the hardware. On paper it puts the competition to shame.

If things come to fruition, the low-profile ZiiLabs has beaten age-old ARM licensees to the quad-core grail. This is really a testament to how fast and how easy it is to get in on a piece of the action.


Apps: Cheap and cheerful

In case you haven’t noticed, Microsoft and other companies have tried shoving widgets down our throats for a few years now, but it really hasn’t taken off. On tablets and smartphones, it’s a whole different story.

Probably one of the greatest assets handheld devices have is the cheap and cheerful software known as apps, and you’ll pardon us if we’re stating the obvious, but this can’t be emphasised enough: Apps are cheap and easy to use. They are the epitome of “dumbing down the user experience” and appeal to the lowest common denominator of computer users.

Apps also give you a tunnel vision of sorts, focusing your attention on one thing at a time, providing you with exactly what you want without distracting you with other odd bits and ends like desktop programs do. Apps are about the same price as a ringtone, but their use far exceeds that of a mentally unstable frog.


Mobility driving the industry

The tablet and smartphone business is also making an impact in the component industry. From TFT panel makers ramping up smaller screen production to R&D investment in new SoC designs, RF, baseband and storage technology, new players are surfacing and old ones are adapting to the best of their ability.

Tablets and smartphones are also a lifeline for many companies struggling to cope with overcapacity, stemming from over-optimistic desktop computer forecasts.

RAM manufacturing is shifting production to meet the demand of tablet PCs. Lower desktop memory margins have prompted this move and greater margins exist in ‘niche’ segments such as tablets and servers, where there’s a premium to be had.

Memory manufacturing companies are also investing in developing new technologies that will – one way or another – end up in the palm of your hand. Whether it’s ReRAM, MRAM or CMOx-based Flash, R&D money is going straight into these business units. Even Rambus has joined in on the action with its recent acquisition of Unity Semiconductor.

TFT panels, on the other hand, have become commoditised and shrunk panel makers’ revenues. The industry has been forced to walk a fine balance between innovating (OLED, AMOLED) and weaning consumers off ‘traditional’ TFT panels. It has managed it poorly. Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and LG are all suffering from having invested far too much and having commoditised the technology too quick.

But not all is bad news for TFT, if you’re willing to adapt. According to research firm NPD DisplaySearch, tablet PCs have accounted for a massive boost in TFT panel shipments. Apart from the smallish ‘Public Display’ segment used in interactive advertising, it is the single greatest boost to the industry which otherwise struggled with low margins and lower-still PC shipments in 2011.

DisplaySearch reports a 217 percent growth of TFT panels, year on year, for the 9+ inch segment, although 2012 will definitely put a spin on the metrics as 7- and 8-inch designs are growing in popularity with both Samsung and an alleged 8-inch Apple iPad.

Finally, ARM licensees have seen business booming as their system-on-chip designs are now powering just about everything handheld. Broadcom, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and even second tier Chinese contenders like Rockchip have found a home with the SoC.


So, why should PC vendors panic? 

Being the lumbering corporate giants that they are, PC vendors are like supertankers, slow to turn and very, very cautious about where they are navigating.

No chances are taken and the beancounters have the last word. While they have the budget to invest in developing new products they are wary to do so as it can cannibalise their own product lines, upset the supply chain and generally impact their bottom line.

PC vendors are also facing off with just about anyone willing to lay down their reputation in tablets and smartphones. A quick trip to Taiwan or mainland China will generate the necessary ODM engineering and manufacturing to come up with competitive products, so it is very easy to get in on the action.

Tablets alone are expected to reach around 100 million unit shipments in 2012, according to Digitimes Research and IDC, and this is purely the hardware side of things.

When you factor in smartphones or superphones, the revenues, even at far lower average selling points, and growth easily overtake anything the PC world has to offer. Now, add the entire parallel economy of revenues generated by app sales for both iOS and Android devices that keep developers’ tummies full and CEOs happy.

No wonder Microsoft wants to push WOA fast and hard. There is no other way to stay in the game.

Next week there will be plenty of developments as Mobile World Congress takes place in Barcelona, and if your business is selling desktop PCs, we’d recommend you put together a team and ship them off to Catalunya as fast as you can. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Rambus claims death of NAND ahead

Rambus Inc, purveyors of fine memory IP, is headed down the path of Flash memory, a first in company history. The purchase of Unity Semiconductor is the first step in cornering the Flash memory market thanks to, what Rambus believes to be, the forthcoming demise of NAND.

The company says it has been eyeing the Flash memory market for a while now and its time has come. So, Rambus has jumped on the best opportunity to do what it has done since its inception: snap up a keystone technology so it can develop a commercial offering and begin generating revenues through third party licensing. Rambus’ latest technology acquisition, Unity Semiconductor, will allow the company to do just that: licence CMOx Flash cell technology to any takers.

According to Rambus, speaking with TechEye, NAND has its days numbered due to the inherent difficulties in scaling the cells below a certain node (20nm), precisely where CMOx leverages its advantages. Calling it an “inflection point” in NAND usage, Rambus is betting on CMOx to carry Flash smaller nodes. At 17nm, CMOx will have four times the density of NAND.

One representative told us: “The Unity technology is well positioned to allow the industry to continue to scale as well as to reduce costs of future generations of non-volatile memory”.

Our source added that this is in line with the company’s commitments and “expands the breadth of Rambus memory technologies” which will “open up new markets for licensing”.

CMOx also opens the market to new players. Rambus isn’t locked down in DRAMurai-mode. It will license the necessary IP to any takers, and considering the high demand for cheap non-volatile, low-power, high-density storage, it sounds like a promising proposal for new players.

A timeframe for the mass-market of CMOx has not yet been set by Rambus, but considering the technical requirements and the current state of manufacturing, within two years Rambus will have something that is able to compete with NAND, we gather. Right now the goal is to “broadly licence the technology and create an ecosystem of tools and equipment suppliers to enable the commercialisation of CMOx”.

Micron will have a head-start in this process, as we hear the agreement inked just a year ago with Unity Semiconductor to further develop CMOx remains in place. Possibly not under the terms Rambus would like it done. That point remains unclear.

Like it or not, Rambus has been on the bleeding edge of memory development and has the sharpest legal claws one can find in the northern hemisphere. It has had its spats with the industry, but as of late, has been cleaning up unfinished business with its partners – Nvidia being the latest case.