04:01 AM

Chip News Roundup - Things Are Looking Up

[Matt Grimshaw offers a weekly roundup of news affecting the largest US tech industry.]

By Matt Grimshaw, Editorial Director, Future-Fab International

SIA & WSTS figures, TSMC hires, Fab spending to double, acquisitions and the Green Memory Movement…

As we all consign another week of 2009 to the rather flippant memory of history I’m struck by just how much has changed in the chip business in a scant 6 months or so.

Just half a year ago the world was collectively swallowing hard, gritting its teeth and taking hard blows to the solar-plexus on an almost daily basis. News was just too damned depressing to watch.

It was like those times when you’re in a low mood anyway and a commercial comes on the TV for an abandoned kitten shelter or something equally fluffy in that vein. Suddenly taking a swan dive off the Golden Gate Bridge no longer seems like an act of desperation but rather an appealing alternative lifestyle choice.

The chip world appears to be in a reflective period, whereby it has paused to lick its wounds and ponder how much of its talent it let go over the last 12 months. That’s not to say it’s all over and we should all have a parade and party like it’s 1999 again, but at least we can all exhale after holding our breath for so long…

However, although news is far from what you’d call rosy, things are looking up. Chip sales are rebounding & new gadgets are coming out aplenty.

Any gaming geeks out there will have surely wet themselves over the new Microsoft & Sony controllers that promise to further blur the lines between movies & games. And the smartphone wars are getting interesting with the Galactic Empire of iPhone being threatened by the Rebel Alliance of the Pre from Palm…

All the while Google is doing its best impersonation of ‘The Force’ incarnate – “Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force Google around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship” – with their Android platform (think Window’s for smartphones but open to tinkering) being promised on a multitude of phones.

The News this Week…

It’s been a pretty interesting week in the news, especially in comparison to the baron desert of last week’s veritable mirage of announcements. Let’s start with the negative stuff and get it out of the way shall we?

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) is dropping a 21.3% figure of market contraction onto everyone’s laps while also claiming that sales will begin to rebound in 2010, which is echoed by the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization, although their figures differ slightly.

Continuing the love-in; chip sales see a 6.4% increase in April while TSMC is looking set to hire instead of fire engineers which really should put a collective smile on the face of the industry after more then a year of layoff announcements.

Allegedly, even fab spending should double in 2010 although that’s not too much to shout about considering how bad things have gotten over 2008-09.

In any negative situation, such as the recession we’re all clawing our way out of, there is always opportunity for those that managed to hoard their cash (images of mattresses stuffed with various denomination bills spring to mind) as is borne out by Nikon’s acquisition of 3D Metrology vendor Metris and Intel’s acquisition of embedded systems supplier Wind River for a mere $844 Million….although the latter is more likely to have far flung implications for Intel’s competitors and suppliers as they continue to make interesting moves out of their traditional markets.

While not meaning to toot the Intel horn too much, there was also this interesting story on Ultra-Low Power devices from a keynotes at this week's Computex trade fair in Taipei which outlined a ‘thin’ future for Intel based laptops.

Keeping on the low power theme, EE Times ran a really interesting piece on a Green Memory movement that is taking root due to the escalating costs of running server farms, which are apparently sucking down enough power to run small countries, whilst also not forgetting the poor sods that supply the DRAM chips for them (who’d be a DRAM manufacturer right now eh?)…

Meanwhile, it’s alleged that the economic mess has not just affected sales across the board, but will also in fact have wider ranging effects on the way chips are designed. According to Aart de Geus, Synopsys CEO, costs associated to embedded software development and verification are spiraling out of control and will force design tool vendors and chip designs themselves onto new, as yet unseen paths.

Geek of the Week…

This weeks GOTW is a collective award to the clever chaps & chapette’s of NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology), for amazing and outstanding all round geekery. Not content to show off a Flexible Memory Element, they are also Wowing the Physics community by proving the existence of Quantum Entanglement in a mechanical system for the first time.

I’m not going to even attempt to simplify this concept into a cheap gag, as even Albert Einstein called the idea of entanglement ‘spooky’. Plus in all honesty I’m too busy picking my jaw off the floor and attempting to stop my eyes spinning around in my head to even try, if you can understand the concept of atoms ‘interacting over ‘vast’ distances” I’m sure you’ll join me, if you’ve not followed the weirdness before then I’m sure you’ll flip out a bit after reading up about it.

Instead I shall merely doff my imaginary cap (oh come on, who actually wears a cap?) to the real Jedi Masters of concepts too weird to discuss without first inhaling several espressos laced with Red Bull… I salute you all.

I’m going to round up the news this week with a story on IMEC’s 25th Birthday bash that’s been going on all week in Belgium. IMEC CEO and long time member of our own Future Fab International’s Editorial Board; Gilbert Declerck, announced his succession this week with Luc Van den hove taking over while Dr. Declerck continues on as Executive Officer. Gilbert was the first Editorial Board member I personally recruited when I was first learning the ropes of the job I do now, so I have a special personal interest in this story.

Matt Grimshaw is the Editorial Director of the Semiconductor Technical Journal; Future Fab International (www.future-fab.com) and writes a weekly blog post for FFI’s social network site Future Fab Connect (www.futurefabconnect.com) that offers a tongue in cheek review of the weeks news and his wanderings in search of Editorial in the Semiconductor industry.