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Archive for October, 2009

Semiconductor Growth – When and Where?

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Is an economic recovery underway in the semiconductor business? If so, what markets are most likely to benefit from this recovery?

A number of economic research firms support the claim that the semiconductor market is in a moderate upturn. For example, iSuppli predicts that revenue will rise to 10.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008 – not that 4Q2008 was a great quarter. In fact, global semiconductor revenue is expected to decline in 2009 for the second consecutive year. Still, an upturn in the last quarter of 2009 would be a most welcomed sign.

Another source – the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) – recently reported that worldwide sales of semiconductors in August were $19.1 billion, an increase of 5 percent from July 2009, though year to date sales were down by 21.3 percent from this same time last year. The rate of sales decline has slowed from the first six months of 2009 during which sales declines by 25 percent year-on-year. All monthly sales numbers represent a three-month moving average of global semiconductor sales.

Another research firm that tracks global chip sales is This firm recently announced that the North American Semiconductor Chip Sales leading indicator went up 4.4 percent in August to a reading of 176.8, after an increase of 4.1 percent in July.  This indicator represents a “composite index that forecasts six months ahead, on average, business activity in the region for sales for semiconductors.”

As a point of reference, the global economy is also doing better – at least better than this same time last year. E-forecasting expects US GDP Q3 growth to be revised to 4.2 percent from an advance estimate today of 3.5 percent.
Cautious Recovery

Though both the US economy and semiconductor markets are poised for growth, several indicators will temper that upturn. These indicators include the continued rise in the US unemployment rate, which is expected to grow to an average of 10 percent by next year. Another problem is the struggling credit and banking markets as well as the rising foreclosures in the housing market. All of these factors should keep US consumer spending at a very cautious level.

By contrast, China’s consumer spending is set to rebound in 2010, thanks in part to various government stimuli like the “Home Appliance Products to Rural Area” program. This stimili has helped to expand the domestic LCD-TV market in China. Regardless of local stimuli, China’s semiconductor market is expected to rebound vigorously in 2010 as exports of electronic products recover from the global economic crisis, according to iSuppli Corp.
Market Growth

What semiconductor markets are best situated to benefit from any upturn in the economy? According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Dept. of Commerce, final sales of computers subtracted 0.11 percentage point from the third-quarter 2009 change in real GDP after subtracting 0.04 percentage point from the second-quarter change.

Our own data – Chip Design Trends (CDT) – supports this decline in the PC market by predicting that fewer new chip designs are being targeted for PC applications. By contrast, the embedded systems market is expected to continue to grow (see Figure).

Figure: In the computer market, more designers are performing ASIC prototypes and verification on applications destined for the embedded systems market vs the traditional PC market. (Chip Design Trends – ASIC Prototyping survey 2009)

Consumer electronics will also see a rebound, as exports form China are expected to improve significantly next year. iSuppli predicts that the big export markets in China will be 3G smart phones, netbooks, Blu-ray DVD players, LCD-TVs, energy meters, surveillance and medical electronics.

Will growth in these markets be strong enough to generate new jobs? That’s the big question that, as yet, remains unpredicted.

Where do you see growth in the semiconductor market? Let me know by taking this quick poll. Thx. — JB

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Bloggers Turning into Journalist?!

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

If you don’t read Harry the ASIC Guy‘s blog, you should. He is just a regular engineer writing about technology trends/updates and the challenges of being a blogger in the new world of media.

It’s the latter that caught my eye today, thanks to a FaceBook post by Lou Covey: The impotence of marketing without media in Synopsys rollout  Lou was highlighting Harry’s latest blog, which was as much about PR and journalistic issues as it was about Synopsys launch of their Synphony product. [Chip Design covered the release here: Synopsys Adds High-Level Synthesis]

In his blog, Harry talked about such things as embargoed press releases and the use of less then impressive third party references in such releases. These are all valid issues, but ones that only someone new to the reporting process would mention.

Look for more of these “learning moments” to appear in blogs as companies continue to court bloggers for product news coverage. This is not a bad thing! But it is worth noting.

Below are my comments to Harry on his blog. Be sure to visit his site to see the other comments. Keep up the good work, Harry.


Hi Harry. First, nice coverage!

Second, I’ve got to agree with Ry. Most PR folks and especially journalists are not that sinister. From the journalist side, pre-embargoed briefings are as much a matter of work flow timing (allocation of resources) as anything else. There are so many things that deserve coverage, but not enought journalists to cover them.

In the past, journalists used to have editorial planning meetings with all the major companies to make sure all the important technical topics were covered in a year’s time. Naturally, vendors used this to their advantage, hoping to time technology coverage with product releases. But back when journalists covered the entire industry, such vendor specific advantage was minimal since all of technology was being covered anyway.

Just be to clear, I’m talking about cover that consists of actual content development (such as your blog) – which is what journalists used to do (and a few still do it). Not merely removing the adjectives from a press release and pitching it as content.

BTW: Major companies seldom want their names mentioned as reference in press release. Legal issues and whatnot.

You’re learning the ropes. Before long, you’ll be a journalist – whether you want to be or not.

Misinterpretation of Data – An Architectural Problem?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Do chip architectures worry about Type I and Type II errors? While performing trade-off analysis between power vs performance demands, architects often are working to a set of system-level (final product) operational scenarios. These scenarios reflect how the chips should work in the final product and are based on research data and legacy applications. But what if the data has been misinterpreted or the user cases misunderstood?

In the world of program management of high order systems, the misinterpretation of data falls into the categories of Type I and Type II errors:

Type I – Errors made by rejecting a hypothesis that is true, e.g., an alarm that fails to go off when it should (system fails to do what it is supposed to do). In a very general sense, an example of a Type I error for Project Management would be having a plan that didn’t work.

Type II – Errors made by accepting a false hypothesis, e.g. an alarm that goes off when it shouldn’t (false alarm or unintended errors). In a very general sense, an example of a Type I error for Project Management would be having a plan that worked but on the wrong problem.

Here’s another example: In terms of data entry, Type 1 would be a “failure to capture accurate data.” Type II would be an error “capturing incorrect data.” Or consider the realm of user interfaces (UI): Type I results from drop down boxes full of options, where the set of options doesn’t adequately address all of the potentially valid inputs the user may want to enter. Type II results from UIs with options/deflates that aren’t obvious or intuitive, which “trick” the user into a false entry.

Statistically, Type I is generally considered to be a “false positive”, and Type II a “false negative.” Whether an error in a system is a Type I or Type II error depends on how you choose your hypothesis.

At this point, you might say that these are really statistical question, hardly of concern to most chip architects. But Type I and Type II errors certainly play a part in the study of trade-off scenarios. And both errors are related in that they both represent a misinterpretation of the data which leads to an incorrect decision.

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts about these types of errors.  (Thanks to David Carswell for input into this blog.)