The semiconductor industry is often described in terms of ‘gaps’ between two or more parametrics. With the rapidly increasing mobile device market, we have a new gap to worry about – the Battery Gap for mobile devices.

A classic example of a semiconductor design gap is the so-called Design Productivity Gap, which describes how many logic transistors can be designed on a chip vs. how many transistors are available for design on that chip at a specific foundry process node. Another example is the Verification Gap – the difference between how many transistors can be designed into an SoC and how many can be adequately verified for that particular design. Both the Design Productivity and Verification Gaps share a common element – both are widening over time as semiconductor technology advances, which means that the effort needed to design complex SoCs increases drastically as process nodes shrink.

As process nodes advance with smaller feature sizes, in general the power dissipated by a transistor decreases. However, this is more than offset by the placement of more transistors on a chip with each node advancement. Various circuit and system design techniques are very effective in bringing down both standby and active SoC power. In addition, there are specialty IP core available that help extend battery life (at the cost of additional silicon area), but the usefulness of a mobile device is still often limited by its battery before recharging or a new battery is needed. This is where the Battery Gap is found – battery technology, as measured by energy storage per unit volume, is not keeping up with semiconductor process and design advancements for increasing battery life.

Bigger batteries are only a stopgap and a limited solution and they add weight and volume to a device. The electronics industry needs to put more emphasis on battery technology to help support the expanding growth of portable communication and other devices, particularly for the consumer market.

I’m interested in hearing how you think this can be accomplished.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: March 19, 2012, 4:05 pm | 1 Comment »

Many of you already know about the apparent future of incandescent light bulbs in the United States. With the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, they will start being phased out starting in January 2012 to make way for more energy efficient CFLs and LEDs. While there will be exemptions such as light bulbs under 40 watts or more than 150 watts and several classes of specialty lights, including appliance lamps, “rough service” bulbs, 3-way, colored lamps, and plant lights, our mainstay 60, 75 and 100w bulbs will begin to disappear. Saving energy is a very noble idea and replacing incandescent bulbs with other, more efficient types will certainly help achieve this goal, but the way the Act was conceived and written and, ultimately, signed into law, it has several deficiencies.

To start, many incandescent light bulbs are used with light dimmers – I have several in my home. Most times, these bulbs are not at full brightness, either for “mood” lighting or because the full lumens output just isn’t needed. I know that solid-state dimmers also use some power, but the combination of a dimmer with a less-than-maximum-output bulb uses less power than a non-dimmed bulb.

Another reason incandescent bulbs are used in many applications is the aesthetic value of the shape of the bulb, the color and translucency of the glass, and its receptacle. While not contributing to energy efficiency, attractive specialty bulbs do add to the look of their surroundings, a fact that my decorator wife often brings up. Unfortunately, CFLs and LEDs often do not fit into existing light fixtures, especially some of the fancy lamps and wall sconces.

While ultra-bright LED lighting technology is still evolving, CFLs are now considered a mature lighting product. Much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, CFLs have two problems – they are not easily dimmed and they contain mercury vapor, which requires special disposal methods for old CFLs and special clean-up for broken bulbs. Clean-up instructions for a broken CFL are relatively elaborate, including airing out the room in which the bulb was broken after people and pets have left, shutting down circulating air systems during the airing-out period, and placing the materials gathered during cleanup in a sealable container for proper disposal. The available dimming controls for CFLs and LEDs are also considerably more expensive than their incandescent dimming counterparts (two-to-three times higher).

Finally, while a national act to conserve energy through control of lighting technology is laudable, there is the ever-present issue of how much the federal government should interfere with a state’s rights to control what transpires within its boundaries as it affects a consumer’s purchase and use of products.

So – a national “which light bulb to use” policy is on its way. Be prepared to pay more for the bulbs and lighting controls and be a little less satisfied with the results. Who knows – incandescent bulbs might be the “in” holiday gift this year.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: November 29, 2011, 6:38 pm | 6 Comments »

So Meg Whitman is now the latest in a relatively long line of CEOs (I believe the eighth since 1999) in recent Hewlett-Packard history. This is an interesting choice but, in my mind, not a really good one.

I worked at HP many years ago, when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard ran the company. At that time, HP was famous as an innovative Silicon Valley high-tech company with high quality products, a wonderful relationship with its employees and a healthy profit margin. This continued when John Young took over the reins. However, in the last decade-plus, company operations and perception of HP from the outside have turned decidedly south.

Enter Meg Whitman. Her eBay record was certainly notable, but eBay and HP are very different animals. She does not have any high-tech hardware experience and she is moving into the leadership position of a company that appears to be trying to find itself, i.e., regain a position of prominence, in the markets it serves.

Then there is the culture aspect. The corporate attitude at stalwart HP would seem to be significantly different from that of a relatively new company such as eBay. Can Meg Whitman fit into the HP role and be viewed by its employees as a CEO to be admired and trusted or will they see her just another chief who will do whatever it takes to achieve the profits demanded by HP’s shareholders?

HP needed to get rid of Apotheker, its last CEO disaster, but I don’t think Meg Whitman is the right person for the job, especially at this critical junction in HP’s life. To me, it’s trying to put a round Meg in a square HP hole.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: September 25, 2011, 10:51 am | No Comments »

The announcement that Steve Jobs was stepping down as Apple CEO was not a surprise to everyone, me included. With his deteriorating health, I think it was a not a question of if but when.

Jobs is a remarkable individual, combining true industry visionary qualities with top-notch business acumen. Silicon Valley has been blessed with many technology visionaries, including one I was lucky enough to work for – Doug Fairbairn at VLSI Technology. But Jobs is different – he is able to tell us what we need before we knew we needed it –in other words, he is a “Killer Apps” visionary. As co-founder of Apple and a major contributor to the first Macintosh computers, Jobs foresaw a time when the PC would become a staple in homes, businesses and schools. I was an early Macintosh Performa user at VLSI and, at that time, they were far better than the other available PCs. Then he and Apple parted ways and the company began a steady decline.

When Jobs was asked to return, Apple spread its wings beyond individual computers and began addressing the broad consumer market. I never thought the iPod would redefine the way we buy, download and listen to music – but it did. The iPhone started the real smartphone market and we all realized that with something like the iPhone with us, we didn’t need to take the laptop everywhere (although 24/7 connectivity does get old at times). Then the iPad started the tablet revolution and netbook computers, well, they don’t stand a chance.

Yes, Jobs is a remarkable person and Apple was lucky to have him at the helm all these years. He will still be working with them, and that’s a good thing – there are plenty of other undiscovered killer consumer apps out there.

Best of luck, Steve. I just wish I had bought Apple stock about 20-25 years ago.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: August 26, 2011, 10:50 am | No Comments »

12  Apr
DAC does it Again

Well, DAC will be upon us before you know it and the DAC management has decided to continue with something that I can’t understand – charging Exhibit-Only registrants for the privilege of visiting exhibitors on the show floor. As has been the case for several years, DAC is continuing their “Free Monday” exhibits policy, but if you want to roam the show floor Monday through Wednesday, it will cost you $65 if paid by May 9 and a whopping $120 afterwards.

I’m sure that the DAC folks will tell you the fee is necessary because along with the ‘exhibit floor experience’ you also have access to four keynote sessions and three evening receptions. However, for many of us these extra activities aren’t necessary – we just like visiting the various DAC exhibitors.

My company exhibited at the TSMC Technical Symposium last week in San Jose. Registration was free for attendees (who had to be approved by TSMC) and the day included validated parking, a hot breakfast, sit-down lunch, afternoon snacks and a hosted evening reception. Of course, the money for these niceties comes from sponsorships and exhibitor fees, which is the way it should be. As always, the TSMC symposium was well run and very well attended.

DAC needs to understand that exhibit floor visitors benefit the exhibitors and, as such, should be free or of very low cost to the attendee ($25 or under). Ideally, there shouldn’t be a charge – the conference can always recoup expenses through exhibitor fees. If you are thinking of attending DAC for the exhibits only, wait awhile. Each year, a company or two steps up to the plate and makes available free exhibitor hall registration to people like you or me. And free is the way it should be for potential customers.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 12, 2011, 7:01 pm | 2 Comments »

A few weeks ago, while shopping for a new LCD HDTV, I was fascinated by the number of 3D televisions that were on sale at various stores. I don’t know how well they are selling, but the marketing push on radio and television for purchasing a 3D TV has been fierce since Thanksgiving. However, it is surprising that any 3D sets are selling for one reason – very little 3D content is available for you to watch.

Check your local television content provider (mine is Comcast) and the number of sports, movies, special events, games, etc. offered in 3D is a very small fraction of the total content you can watch. And, like the 3D theatrical releases during the past year or so, not a lot of what is available in 3D is worth watching in 3D, if at all (anyone but alumni want to watch the Rutgers – William and Mary field hockey game?). The availability of 3D Blu-ray disks follows a similar pattern.

Buying a part of an entertainment system before there is sufficient content to make the purchase worthwhile is not new to the consumer, especially in the television market. In the mid-1990s, my wife asked me if we were getting HDTVs for our new house; she had read about them. At that time, the only HDTV was an analog set offered by a Japanese manufacturer at an exorbitant price. I don’t recall how much HD video content was available at that time, but if there was any it wasn’t much. Many years before then, when RCA introduced their first color television, there was a similar problem – a TV enabled to display color video but practically no color TV broadcasts (and I lived in New York City, where we were blessed with three networks – CBS, NBC and ABC).

Some folks seem to relish being the “first on their block” to own the latest and greatest electronic gismo. I, on the other hand, like to let the dust settle after a new product or type of product hits the market (4th generation iPhones anyone?). Purchasing a TV with enhanced capabilities costs a substantial premium over a set with standard features, so why do so before you have the content you need to take advantage of these higher-level capabilities? I guess some folks just like to jump the gun when it comes to entertainment systems. Good luck and…don’t forget the new 3D Blu-Ray player.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: December 21, 2010, 7:13 pm | No Comments »

Well, that was my first thought, from an electronics perspective, when I heard the news yesterday (September 16) about United Business Media (UBM) buying Canon Communications for $287 million. UBM owns EE Times while Canon is the owner of EDN, having recently obtained it from Reed Business Information.

Canon operates 41 trade shows, which account for about half of the company’s revenue. It’s these established shows that are probably the primary reason for the UBM acquisition. Tradeshows have become increasingly more important for organizations such as UBM, who have seen their print revenues drop over the past several years due to the increased use of web-based resources by engineers and other factors. However, the EE Times/EDN component of the deal is very interesting to those of us in the electronics industry.

I have always associated EE Times with electronics industry news and EDN with electronics design, although both publications, in recent years, have made attempts to broaden their material to cover both news and design topics. Now, both publications and their websites will be under one roof. Will each continue under its own name and with its established identity and pedigree or will we see, for the sake of cost savings and increased attractiveness to a potential advertising base, a new publication merging the two? Time will tell, but the acquisition does provide a good opportunity to streamline and enhance two very well respected electronics publications that have lost recently some of their luster.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: September 17, 2010, 11:25 am | No Comments »

Over the past several months, semiconductor foundries have been going all out to promote themselves and their partners. Two of the Big Boys – TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES – have been spending lots of money on their own shows and on making appearances at others.

Both TSMC and GF (the only major foundries at DAC) set up large partner areas where multiple IP, EDA and other partner companies had tabletop displays and kiosks and made presentations to the attendees. More significant, however, are the efforts of both companies in sponsoring their own technical symposiums, free to attendees. TMSC had a total of nine symposiums worldwide, an increase of what they sponsored last year. GF is preparing to have a Silicon Valley technical conference on September 1, which will fill a gap left by the cancellation/postponement of the Common Platform technical conference.

This uptick in foundry-sponsored conferences and symposiums is good news to their various partners, particularly those in the IP provider space, and to attendees, since these people are focused on everything available to help them do their chip designs. Attendees appreciate seeing and considering IP from the partners at a foundry conference as a “nod of approval.” Nowadays “show me the silicon” is a requirement for many semiconductor developers, and having several of a foundry’s silicon partners available in a common venue is a win-win-win (foundry-silicon partner-customer) situation.

Beyond processing expertise and pricing, a foundry’s “partner community” is an important factor that helps differentiate itself from its competitors. Expanding this community and spending the money to make it available to the semiconductor design community at-large through symposiums and conferences is a positive sign that the semiconductor industry is moving upward.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: August 2, 2010, 2:27 pm | No Comments »

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one of the fun things to do at technical conferences is to sit in on an event that is not an ‘official’ conference session. These events often include talks and/or panels on interesting topics and are sponsored by companies who offer products or services associated with those topics. Such was the case this week at the Embedded Systems Conference, where I attended a luncheon sponsored by Synapse (www.synapse.com) with participation by Atmel, Silicon Labs and California Eastern Labs (CEL). The topic: “The tipping point for wireless M2M communications.”

Synapse makes mesh network operating systems and middlewear for the wireless mesh network market while the other three companies embed Synapse operating systems in some of their processors or microcontrollers. All four companies delivered presentations that helped me better understand IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee for low-cost, low-power M2M communications. I also learned about an existing standard – RF4CE (Radio Frequency for Consumer Electronics) – geared at using RF in appliance remote controls instead of the traditional IR for better reliability, to overcome line-of-sight limitations and in some applications where IR controls just won’t work, such as with strongly back-lit monitors.

Particularly interesting was the breadth of applications targeted by 802.15.4-enabled devices. Home and industrial remote lighting, crop irrigation, public thoroughfare lighting, smart utility meters, smart energy such as solar and LED, home entertainment devices, industrial security systems, and asset management are just a few of the applications where 802.15.4 is becoming pervasive. And forget the idea that 802.15.4 is for short-range applications. Companies such as CEL are making devices with ranges beyond two miles.

All-in-all, a nice way to spend a lunch hour, getting an update on some communication protocols that will impact all of our lives and learning about new and interesting products that support these protocols. This is the type of event at which I don’t mind a sales pitch that goes along with the educational material.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 30, 2010, 7:34 am | No Comments »

I think the San Jose version of the annual TSMC Technology Symposium this past week is a good indicator of where the semiconductor industry is going over the next few years. The positive growth predictions of keynote speaker Morris Chang, TSMC founder, chairman and CEO – 22% this year and 7% in 2011 – are only one gauge of industry direction. Another is what happens on the exhibit floor.

As in past years, there were plenty of companies willing to put out the money and resources for an exhibit floor booth in San Jose (which also includes smaller, tabletop exhibits this month in Austin and Boston). From a potential customer perspective, foundry-driven shows such as the TSMC symposiums provide an excellent opportunity to meet prospects who are, largely, in the chip design business. Since my company, Sidense, is an IP provider, this is a good audience for us. However, the number of exhibitors is not a great measure of industry direction – the attendee base serves this purpose.

TSMC host Chuck Byers, a familiar face at the TSMC events, indicted that advance attendance was down a little this year, but that walk-ins could make up the difference. Judging from the lack of empty seats for the presentations and the traffic on the show floor, I believe that this was the case. The intangible “show floor energy” was high, demonstrating a positive attitude among attendees. More importantly, we and some of the other exhibitors with whom I compared notes found that visitors had a high level of interest in IP and tools available to help them ratchet up their design productivity. This was in contrast to the more cautious “wait and see” posture of prospects six months to a year ago.

The bottom line is that things are definitely improving. Customers seem more willing to spend money now to gain competitive advantages than they were a year ago. While this doesn’t mean that we are solidly on the road to recovery, I do think that it shows that we have already hit the bottom of the economic trough and that we are making moderate progress on our way to a more normal business environment. However, unfortunately, this doesn’t include, at least at this time, a large surge in hiring to make up for jobs lost over the past two years. That will take a while longer.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 18, 2010, 11:15 am | No Comments »

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