Thursday, December 31, 2009

Round-up 2009: Best of semiconductors!

Right folks! We’ve now come down to the last day of what has been one of the worst years, or the worst year ever, in the history of the global semiconductor industry!

After a very tough first half of 2009, things did start looking up in the second half, and that trend has continued right up to the end of the year. It is a sincere wish that this trend continues well into 2010 and 2011, thereby allowing the industry to scale great heights again.

Presenting a list of leading semiconductor industry related posts that mattered in 2009. Here you go!

SEMICONDUCTORS

* Reviewing global/Indian semicon industry in 2008 — top posts

* Consumer MEMS shine amid gloom: iSuppli

* Global semi to dip by 28pc in 2009; Indian semi to grow at 13.4pc by 2010! Don’t get carried away!!

* What the semiconductor industry should do in 2009!

* Indian semiconductor market to reach $7.59bn by 2010!

* Global semiconductor industry could well see revival in 2010?

* Can the Indian semicon industry dream big? (And even buy Qimonda?)

* Indian silicon wafer fab story seems dead and buried! Should we revive it? — A topic everyone loves to talk about, but do very little!

* ISA Vision Summit 2009 lacks the punch!

* What India now offers to global semicon industry! — Need to look beyond embedded and design services! Top read!!

* ISA Vision Summit 2009: Indian design influence, ideas to volume

* Definite need for rethink on India’s fab strategy!

* Time for Indian semicon to step up! Yes or No?

* Infineon on India’s e-passport and semicon industry

* Indian chip industry dead? You’ve got to be kidding me!

* How semicon firms can achieve high performance by simplifying business!

* How semicon firms can achieve high performance — Part II

* ISA’s BV Naidu on India’s way forward in semiconductors

* Clearly, mixed signals in OEM semiconductor design activities!

* What needs to be done to boost chip designing activities in India?

* Freescale’s Rich Beyer on semicon and industry trends

* Cypress on Indian semicon industry trends; launches PSoC 3 and PSoC 5 architectures

* Chip market outlook: Back to normal abnormality? — Malcolm Penn @ IEF2009, Geneva

* Excerpts from Future Horizons’ International Electronics Forum 2009 @ Geneva

* Excerpts from Future Horizons’ IEF 2009 — II

* Strong semicon industry recovery likely in 2010! — The first signs of recovery for an industry in trouble!

* What does it take for students to be (semiconductor) industry-ready! — A top read article, especially for students!

* Building pillars of India’s tech infrastructure: Dr. Bobby Mitra, TI India

* Top 20 semicon suppliers of 2009! — One of the most read articles of the year!

* Future Horizons signs me as its India affiliate! — I can’t wait to do events, research reports etc. in India!

* 2009 ending with lot of positives for global semiconductor industry

* Semicon update Dec. ‘09: Q4’s off to a great start; is ‘plan B’ in your back pocket?

* Nov. 09 update: -10 percent growth in 2009, +22 percent minimum for 2010, says Future Horizons

My dear friends, it has been an absolute pleasure bringing to you the trials and triumphs of the global and Indian semiconductor industry this year. Hope to carry this forward in 2010 and beyond.

In case I’ve missed out certain posts, do point out those. A list of posts related to EDA and embedded systems are presented elsewhere on this blog. Also, it is not possible for me to select the top 10 articles for the year. If anyone of you can, I’d be very delighted.

My best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a happy and prosperous 2010. Take care, God bless, and see you all very soon next year!

Nov. 09 update: -10 percent growth in 2009, +22 percent minimum for 2010, says Future Horizons

Here are the excerpts from the Global Semiconductor Monthly Report, November 2009, provided by Malcolm Penn, chairman, founder and CEO of Future Horizons. There are a lot of charts associated with this report. Those interested to know more may contact Future Horizons.

As a result of September’s sales exceeding the high end of even our best-case expectations, Q3-09 romped in with a massive 19.7 percent quarterly growth forcing us to once again revise upwards our 2009 forecast.

We now have 2009 pegged at only a 10 percent decline, a long way off from the minus 28 percent number we were staring in the face this time last year. Plugging this new base line into our 2010 forecast increases the growth outlook to at least 22 percent. If Q4 continues the Q2/Q3 momentum, this could even go much higher still. This is not wishful thinking … the market recovery has now broken through its escape velocity. Only a global economic disaster of cataclysmic proportions can now derail the chip recovery dynamics.

Ignoring the structurally (and typically) wild individual monthly fluctuations – which simply means no single month’s data is a good indicator of the underlying trends – September’s result means our recently revised minus 14 percent growth estimate for 2009 is far too pessimistic. We are now officially increasing this to minus 10 percent.

Partly this reflects the fact the Q4-08/Q1-09 market decline was far too steep and partly it is the result of the maths whereby all future monthly 12:12 growth numbers will be measured against a dynamic whereby the 2009 numbers are trending up whereas the 2008 numbers are trending down, amplifying the impact of the 2009 positive monthly trends.

The big question to our mind is: “Why is it that everyone seems absolutely convinced that 22 percent growth for 2010 is simply not possible, expecting instead something in the 10 to 16 percent range?” The reasoning is usually accompanied by comments along the lines “chips are becoming cheaper” and “there are no killer applications to drive (sustain) the recovery”, meaning such a strong growth forecast is a “reflection of wishful thinking and not market reality”.

We disagree! First from a forecast perspective, the difference between 16 and 22 percent growth is not so statistically significant, so what we are really looking at is two distinct forecast scenarios … 10 to 14 percent (which includes the WSTS and most of the independent forecasting firms) and 16 percent plus, which at the moment comprises primarily ourselves.

Mathematically, a 10 to 14 percent growth means a collapse in the market in Q4-09 (i.e., right now) – with only low single-digit sequential quarterly growth – continuing on into the first half of 2010.

The 10 to 14 percent growth scenario thus mean a sizeable first half-year slowdown followed by only a modest second-half recovery, which in truth is what people feel mindful to believe but is not what the facts and the analysis supports. No one we have spoken to or researched is (a) experiencing and/or (b) forecasting such a fourth quarter slow down, in fact most Q4-09 industry guidance is in the 5 to 7 percent growth range. Quarterly forecasts and/or guidance for 2010 are simply not available … no chip CEO is willing to publically nail these to the masthead, but we can look to the foundries to sneak some good insights.

In contrast, our Q4 forecast is for +6.4 percent growth, right in the middle of the published industry guidance. It is this strength that has forced us to revise our 2009 forecast up to minus 10 percent and, at the same time, set the platform for 2010’s 22 percent growth, supported by a not unreasonable quarterly scenario. There is thus a current massive disconnect between perception and reality. More Future Horizons’ blue sky wishful thinking? Absolutely not!!

The first quarter in any year is typically seasonally slow, so sales growth will theoretically slow from Q4’s 5 to 7 percent range. It often goes negative. As there is currently no Q1-10 chip company guidance (does anyone think beyond the current quarter these days?), a look at what is happening in the foundries gives some insight, given Q4-09’s foundry sales are Q1-10’s IC sales … the three-month wafer fab and IC production cycle time.

The fact is Q4 foundry sales are holding up strongly, implying a more modest than normal seasonal first quarter decline. For example, TSMC is expecting Q4-09 to be up between 3.3 to 5.5 percent, which would indicate a flat to small positive Q1-10 growth for the industry as a whole. This is in stark contrast to their original Q4 guidance (published in the third quarter) that called for a 4.8 percent Q4 decline.

Other foundries are similar and, equally importantly, no chip firm is yet issuing warnings about the market falling of a cliff and/or hitting a brick wall, and there are no other indication of a first quarter collapse, for example order cancellations, reschedules and evaporating backlogs, all of which gives us (but not yet the industry) strong anecdotal confidence that the chip market is not crashing.

For the record, our 22 percent 2010 growth forecast called for a 2 percent Q1 quarterly decline, which was intended to be a somewhat of a middle of the road position. It was certainly not chosen to be aggressive or optimistic. Paradoxically, it now seems an increasingly unduly pessimistic position, flying in the face of the foundries Q4 performance.

Q2 is then typically a flat to small growth quarter; for our forecast we plumped for a relatively safe 0 percent number. Q3 is then seasonally strong (we went for a middle of the road +10.3 percent) followed by a Q4 seasonal slowdown (in our case +2 percent growth).

None of our 2010 quarterly growth numbers are thus optimistic or aggressive from a historical growth standpoint, if any thing they may transpire to be somewhat conservative. Yet it is this ‘benign’ quarterly growth pattern that leads to our 22 percent number.

It is hard to get this down to a 16 percent growth level; the quarterly pattern needs to be -4, -2, +8 and +1 percent, meaning 2009’s recovery would have already run out of steam. No one is reporting this, certainly not the foundries. You would need an even more serious collapse to get this down to the 10 to 14 percent levels.

So, not only is 22 percent growth in 2010 highly achievable, it is well on the cards we will be forced to revise it UP at our January IFS2010 annual industry forecast seminar … despite what the general industry consensus currently thinks!

There is thus a total disconnect between what people think the trends and numbers are and what they actually are. Partly this is a classic “yes but let’s wait and see what the next quarter actually brings before we really start to believe in the recovery”, typical of any early chip market recovery, and partly it is a total lack of confidence in the industry per se.

People are also guilty of not properly thinking through what the numbers are saying and then when they do, not believing in the answer, instead seeing only the technical difficulties (they have always been massive) not the market opportunities, and ignoring the fact that killer applications are a 20:20 hindsight phenomenon.

Interestingly, we have not even factored into the forecast any potential price increases (due to allocations or shortages) as we believe, due to fiscal drag, these will not significantly impact ASPs until 2011. What we do believe however is that chips cannot forever keep on getting cheaper and that the industry is on the cusp of a structural ASP rise.

ASPs are a very complex issue, driven not just by price increases but also product mix, IC innovation, capacity and production techniques. For sure the industry has seen declining ASPs since the 2001 crash but it is fundamentally flawed logic to extrapolate this into the future; a little like saying real-estate prices will forever keep on rising. They do not; neither will IC ASPs keep on falling.

First, in the same time period we experienced a major yield bust at 130nm, delaying its introduction by a year and destroying the ASP price enhancement it would otherwise have had. Second we had the transition to 300mm wafers, the sole purpose of which was to cost reduce ICs. A 2x plus increase in dpw for only a 40 percent wafer cost increase means a 40 percent die cost decrease. As is typical in our industry, all of this cost reduction was immediately passed on to the customer meaning all 300mm wafer sourced ICs were reduced in selling price by up to 40 percent.

Third, for DRAMs, where fabs must always be kept fully loaded, the increase in die output was more than the market could stand meaning rampant oversupply and the mother of all price wars. It is only now that this massive one-off incremental capacity increase has been absorbed that pricing can return to its ‘normal’ pricing curve.

A fourth factor then was the brutal Intel-AMD 32-bit MPU price war that saw ASPs fall around 30 percent from their more normal US$100 level to US$70. With AMD now bloodied, bruised and losing money, we can expect to see MPU prices now recover.

Finally, excess capacity also played its role but is already no longer a factor due to the significant slow down in new capacity investment over the past two years or so. Wafer fab investment is now historically down 75 percent versus historical norms. With a one-year time delay between investment decision and net new capacity, it will be 2011 at the earliest for this trend can be reversed (2010’s Cap Ex spend) but even the forecast ‘50 to 60 percent’ spend growth versus 2009 is still pitifully small in absolute terms – it is simply too little too late.

Industry thus entered Q3-09 (Q4’s IC sales) at near full capacity and little inventory in the food chain, it all having been depleted in the first half of the year, with no chance yet to rebuild any stocks. 2H-09 orders are being shipped pretty much hand to mouth and lead times are extending. Q4-09’s utilisation rates (Q1’s IC sales) are holding up quite strongly, allowing some inventory replenishment given the seasonal IC sales slowdown.

In this way, the industry will muddle through the first half of 2010, lulling itself into a false sense of security, worried on the one hand that unit demand will not hold up and deluded by the ‘belief’ there is ‘more than sufficient capacity’ to meet industry demand. There is not.

Unless the economy tanks, unit demand will continue to grow which means there is nowhere near enough long-term capacity. Industry will collectively wake up in mid-2010 to a seasonal demand increase with all of the first half-year ‘excess capacity’ used up, no significant inventory and allocations endemic. This will be the real trigger for IC price increases; these will not impact the ASP until 2011.

Just as a combination of factors collided to depress IC ASPs over the past several years; none are sustainable and all are now reversing. The era of ever decreasing chip prices is over. 2010’s upward ASP trend will be determined more by the year-on-year maths; the real impact will not happen until 2H-10 once industry wakes up to the fact 2010 really will be a 22 percent plus growth year.

Unfortunately, the parallel industry drift to ‘fab-lite’ – the easy tech syndrome illusion – means that it will not be the IDMs who benefit from the forthcoming up-turn, the clear outright winners will be the independent foundries, in particular TSMC who continued to increased their capacity whilst the other semiconductor companies did not.

Intel and Samsung aside, TSMC is the only (non-fabless) chip firm that really understands this business … all the other IDMs and fab-lite proponents are looking for band aids and instant quick fixes. The fact is, as this next up-turn will show, capacity equals sales; no capacity equals no sales. It really is that simple and it is a perfect correlation.

No capacity also equals IC (wafer) price increases (supply and demand). It is one thing to have to pay a higher price for your wafers – that can be passed on; it is another matter entirely not to get the wafers at all … that will be the kiss of death for many fabless (fab-lite?) firms.

2010 will thus herald the long overdue unmasking of the Emperor’s new clothes ‘fab-lite’ business strategy. Fab-lite, like cheap debt, is just another beancounter/Wall Street scam … seemingly a balance sheet lifesaver, in practice too good to be true. Unfortunately Wall Street does not care, they will simply move on to their next slight of hand. The real losers are the employees, customers and institutional investors. What I call ‘Fab Smart’ is the only IDM option.

Round-up 2009: Best of solar photovoltaics

Part III in the series ‘Round-up 2009′ features the top posts in solar photovoltaics during the year gone by. Some friends and readers have spent hours searching for blog posts. Hope this list will help them to easily find the blog post they are looking for. Here you go!

SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAICS

* Dramatic price forecast to reshape PV industry: iSuppli

* Opportunities in India’s solar/PV landscape: SEMI India

* More mature PV industry likely post solar downturn: iSuppli

* How is PV industry reacting to oversupply conditions?

* Dr. Robert Castellano on how to make solar a ‘hot’ sector again – 1

* Dr. Robert Castellano on how to make solar a ‘hot’ sector again – 2

* Consolidation likely in solar cell manufacturing to control oversupply, and, lessons for India!

* Top-10 solar cell suppliers in 2009: iSuppli — This was also a top read article during 2009!

* Solar PV industry scenario in India!

* Rising opportunities in India’s solar PV space

* Highest efficiency Si solar cells realised with n-Si — Prof. Weber, Fraunhofer ISE

* Solar Semiconductor’s Hari Surapaneni on why solar is good for India!

* India major destination for solar/PV investments!

* Dynamics of the global PV industry

* Prof. Eicke R. Weber, Fraunhofer Institute on future of PV

* Solar PV and Utility 2.0: Making the grid smarter!

* Union Cabinet approves National Solar Mission; 20 GW by 2022 (not 2020)! — The day and event everyone’s waited so very patiently for long in the Indian solar/PV industry!

* Indian government unveils National Solar Mission Plan document!

* What’s next in PV equipment?

Again, it is extremely difficult for me to list the Top 10. If you can decide, that’ll be great.

Best wishes to my dear friends, well-wishers and everyone for a happy and prosperous 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Round-up 2009: Best of EDA, embedded systems and software, design trends

Friends, the next installment in this series on the round-up of 2009 lists my top posts across three specific fields that are very important within the semiconductor industry — electronic design automation (EDA), embedded systems and software, and some design trends. Here you go!

EDA

* Synopsys on Discovery 2009, VCS2009 and CustomSIM

* State of global semicon industry: Hanns Windele, Mentor

* New routing tool likely to cover upcoming MCMM challenges: Hanns Windele, Mentor

* Cadence’s focus — systems, low power, enterprise verification, mixed signal and advanced nodes

* Zebu-Server — Enterprise-type emulator from EVE

* State of the global EDA industry: Dr. Pradip Dutta, Synopsys

* Mentor’s Wally Rhines on global EDA industry and challenges

* Mentor’s Wally Rhines on EDA industry — II

* Cadence’s Lip-Bu Tan on global semicon, EDA and Indian semicon industry

* Indian EDA thought leaders can exploit opportunities from tech disruption!

EMBEDDED SYSTEMS & SOFTWARE

* Top 10 embedded companies in India — By the way, this happens to be the most read article of the year!

* NI LabView solves embedded and multicore problems!

* Intel’s retail POS kiosk provides unique shopping experience

* ISA Vision Summit 2009: Growing influence of embedded software on hardware world

* MCUs are now shaping the embedded world!

* Embedded electronics: Trends and opportunities in India!

* Growth drivers for embedded electronics in India

DESIGN TRENDS

* Microcontrollers unplugged! How to choose an MCU

* Xilinx rolls out ISE Design Suite 11 for targeted design platforms!

* TI’s 14-bit ADC unites speed and efficiency

* ST/Freescale intro 32-bit MCUs for safety critical applications

Again, I am certain to have missed out some posts that you may have liked. If yes, please do point out. Also, it is not possible for me to select the top 10 articles for the year. If anyone of you can, I’d be very delighted.

My best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a happy and prosperous 2010.

P.S.: The next two round-ups will be on solar photovoltaics and semiconductors. These will be added tomorrow, before I disappear for the year! :)

Round-up 2009: Best of electronics, telecom and technology

Friends, as we near the end of 2009 — a tumultuous year indeed, by all counts — it is time to take a look at what was the best and the worst during the year in electronics, telecom and technology! Presenting my list of top posts for the year — from these three industry segments.

ELECTRONICS

* Farnell looking to convert 3,500 prospects this year in India!

* Can Indian companies build $50 netbooks for Indian consumers?

* What WHDI 1.0 can do for consumer electronics!

* Has India done enough in the past to boost electronics hardware manufacturing?

TECHNOLOGY

* Top 10 technology predictions for 2009: Deloitte

* Get ready for Webdesign International Festival (WIF) 2010!

* Pretty ordinary bloggers survey leaves several unanswered questions!

* SAP World Tour ‘09: Heralding a “Clear Enterprise”

* Top 5 high growth markets driving (semicon?) recovery, and top 10 hot and emerging technology platforms

* Top trends in cyber crimes you need to watch out for!

TELECOM

* D-day’s here for TD-SCDMA! Take a bow!!

* Top 10 telecom predictions for 2009: Deloitte

* Telecom enhances globalization in every possible way!

* Top 10 telecom trends for 2009 — more of the same!

* Top 10 telecom predictions for 2010!

Yes, I know I may have missed some posts, which you felt were good enough. In that case, do let me know.

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Semicon update Dec. ‘09: Q4’s off to a great start; is ‘plan B’ in your back pocket?

Here are the excerpts from the Global Semiconductor Monthly Report, October 2009, provided by Malcolm Penn, chairman, founder and CEO of Future Horizons. There are a lot of charts associated with this report. Those interested to know more may contact Future Horizons.

October set the fourth quarter off with a blast, with IC units up 9.2 percent versus the same period last year and a staggering 22.8 percent versus September 2009.

More importantly ASPs were up 5.3 percent versus October 2008, bringing the October 12:12 growth in value to plus 15.1 percent. This is the first such positive growth since July 2008. October’s strength also makes our 3 percent fourth quarter growth incredibly conservative, with no sign at all of a near-term industry bust.

With industry struggling to keep pace with second half-year demand, there has been no chance yet for inventories to be replenished after their Q4-08/Q1-09 purge. We are now condemned to enter 2010 with tight fab capacity and no excess stock. Already, device lead times are starting to feel the pinch; no one we speak to yet believes what the data is saying!

Ignoring the structurally (and typically) wild individual monthly fluctuations – which simply means no single month’s data is a good indicator of the underlying trends – October’s result places us safely within our current minus 10 percent 2009 growth estimate.

Having said that, even this revised estimate is now looking too pessimistic given future monthly 12:12 numbers will be measured against a dynamic whereby the 2009 numbers are trending up whereas the 2008 numbers were trending down, amplifying the impact of the 2009 positive monthly trends. We are on track for November to be the month when the monthly 12:12 growth rate breaks back into positive territory, as predicted in our October 2009 Report (August’s WSTS data).

Based on October’s data, it is now very difficult to see anything less than a 20 percent growth year for the semiconductor market in 2010 (our current forecast still look at plus 22 percent, as reported in last month’s Report) just based on the current industry momentum (i.e., a fourth quarter growth of around 6 to 7 percent) and a very ‘average’ quarterly growth pattern for 2010. Indeed, we are now starting to see the first industry guidance revisions that tend to indicate even this range might be low.

For sure the global economic outlook is worryingly fragile and there are many structural problems remaining largely unresolved. There are also new sources of volatility to be dealt with but the emerging economies are still in much better structural shape than the over-indebted rich world and these will continue to grow at around twice the rate of the established world economies, a structural trend that first started around 20 or so years ago.

Despite these macro economic concerns and unknowns, the fact of the matter is whilst there is an obvious link between the chip market and global economic growth rates this relationship is statistically very weak. The semiconductor market growth rate can thus fare much better (or for that matter much worse) than that of the overall economy due to the fact other factors such as ASPs, under/over capacity and inventory adjustments play a critical determining role in the overall market behavior.

It is also important to remember that the absolute size of the world economy is still very big – similar in size to what it was in 2007 – and there was no chip market bubble preceding the 2009 downturn. Yet, no one I have spoken to, has any real confidence in our analyses or the numbers, or for that matter in the longer term industry outlook!

This attitude is clearly entrenched in the recent WSTS fall 2009 forecast, published only a few weeks ago, which calls for a 0.5 percent growth in Q4-09 and 12.2 percent growth in 2010. This is also pretty much where the global industry consensus currently sits. The current reality is very different!

For only 0.5 percent growth in Q4 means a market size of $62.2 billion. With October already at $22.1 billion, November plus December would be only $40.2 billion. This means both must be lower than October’s run rate, which would indicate the market had already now peaked. There is absolutely no evidence to support this position; quite the opposite in face, there is every reason to believe that the market is strengthening, not weakening.

Even if Q4 were 0.5 percent growth, to then have only 12.2 percent growth in 2010 would require a quarterly growth pattern of something like: Q1 = -4 percent / Q2 = +0 percent / Q3 = +8 percent / Q4 = +2.5 percent. This implies a market collapse in the first half of 2010 followed by a very slow recovery for the second half of 2010. This too is not what is currently being experienced. There is no company out there experiencing or forecasting this kind of an outlook.

Even if November and December were flat versus October, Q4 would exhibit 6.4 percent growth over Q3. This now represents the bottom end of the likely range. In reality the odds are growth will be in the 7 to 8 percent growth.

Ignoring this upside, with Q4-09 at plus 6.4 percent growth, to keep 2010’s growth at the plus 12.2 level would need a 2010 quarterly growth rates of: Q1 = -6 percent / Q2 = -2 percent / Q3 = +5 percent / Q4 = +2 percent – a truly cataclysmic year and something that at this stage is simply not realistic.

Alternatively holding the original 2010 quarterly growth pattern constant but with a 6.4 percent Q4-2009 increases 2010’s growth from 12.2 to 18.8 percent, not a whole lot different from our 22 percent number.

The chances are 2010 will show much stronger quarterly growth rates than our current forecast is assuming, especially if prices start to harden during the first half year due to shortages, increased lead-times and product allocations.

We remain absolutely convinced that the industry has lulled itself into a false sense of security, which will hold for the first half of 2010 due to the normal first half year seasonal slowdown, only to collapse with a vengeance under the second half-year’s strength, by which time it will be impossible to do anything about it.

Only another major economic crisis can now derail the market recovery; in the absence of such a calamity, the baseline numbers have never looked as strong. Our New Year’s message to industry is thus, “By all means plan your budget and operations for a modest growth year but you better have a more aggressive Plan B in your back pocket.” Happy 2010 and a prosperous new decade!

Industry capacity
The overall MOS wafer fab capacity decreased a further 0.7 percent in Q3 versus Q2-09, from 1890k 200mm equivalent wafer starts per week to 1877k.. Only 300mm leading edge capacity showed any increase in the quarter, at around 6.7 percent growth. These cutbacks add to the previous quarter’s 2.7 percent decline and compared with a 1.1 percent quarterly growth this time last year.

While some of the decline can be attributed to closing of older lines due to the recession, new lines were also affected as a direct result of the deliberate slowdown in capital expenditure that began mid-2007 before the recession started is now really starting to bite. Overall MOS capacity is now on a par with where it was in the first half of 2007.

At 644.8k wafer starts per week, Q3-09 200mm capacity continued its absolute value decline, from 679.7k in Q2-09, a fall of 1.9 percent. 200mm capacity is now down 21.1 percent versus the same period last year.

The 300mm wafers now account for 54.5 percent of the total MOS capacity, up from 50.7 percent in Q2-09 and 47.6 percent from the same period last year. 300mm wafers now account for over half the total capacity, with 200mm in second place at 35.5 percent, down from 36.0 percent in Q2-09 and 39.4 percent in Q3-08. Advanced capacity (i.e. 0.08 micron and below) grew 6.1 percent or 55.9k 200mm equivalent wafer starts per week, similar to last year’s equivalent 7.7 percent growth.

As predicted in our Q1-09 capacity review (June 2009 Report), due to the capacity cutbacks and recovering IC demand, total MOS IC Q3-09 utilisation rates continued their Q2-09 bounce back reaching 87.0 percent. The comparable figure for Q3-08 was 87.5 percent. Advanced IC capacity, i.e. 0.08 micron and below, also rebounded reaching 94.2 percent (from 90.2 percent in Q2-09), whilst 300mm and 200mm wafers checked in at 96.1 percent (Q2 = 91.9 percent) and 80.2 percent (Q2 = 72.3 percent), respectively.

As already mentioned, the fall in Q4-08/Q1-09 utilisation rates was the result of the massive order cancellations and demand collapse triggered by the September 2008 Lehman Bros collapse and was much faster and deeper than the 2001 dotcom driven recession. The Q2/Q3-09 bounce back reflected the start of the inevitable correction from this massive over-reaction, aided and abetted by a fundamental lack of overall capacity.

Given the significant cutbacks in cap ex since mid-2007, we expect to see utilization rates remain at these levels throughout the first half of 2010, tightening still further during the second half of the year. For utilization rates to be so high at the beginning of the recovery cycle has no historic precedent. 2009’s Cap Ex spend remains at ludicrously low levels with no significant increase anticipated until mid-2010. That means capacity will be tight through at least mid-2011.

We have said it before and we say it again. There will not be enough 2010 capacity in place to meet demand, 2011 will be even worse! This is a serious fab shortage about to happen. It will kill the fashionable – but fundamentally flawed – fab lite strategy stone dead.

Market trends – WiMax mobile, running out of time?
Mobile wireless data access is already with us in the form of mobile, or cellular, phones. Higher speed access is available using EDGE, W-CDMA and developments of CDMA2000 1x. 3G has been evolving with higher data rates available from High-Speed Download Packet Access (HSDPA) and High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) was available in some areas during 2008 with increasing availability in 2009.

Further developments in the pipeline include LTE and 4G, which will further increase bandwidth. These ‘mobile phone’ based technologies offer competition to WiMAX in the mobile broadband arena as opposed to fixed line broadband replacement options.

WiMAX was originally designed for fixed wireless access and is based around a new standard IEEE 802.16, it is also known as the WirelessMAN air interface. This technology is to be used in ‘the last mile’ in a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN), and will deliver wireless performance comparable to cable, DSL and T1 wired connections. IEEE 802.16 is one of a hierarchy of standards that has been created by the IEEE for the interoperability of wireless systems.

Uncertainty still remains on the suitability of WiMAX as a mobile technology. Mobile radio technologies such as WDMA-HSDPA, LTE, CDMA EVDO, IEEE802.20 or improved wireless LANs such as IEEE802.11n (in buildings) may well give good broadband access and better mobility.

WiMAX is already being considered as one of the broadband data components of 4G mobile radio. The idea is to make an interim solution using 3G plus WiMAX. This may persuade operators to move to WiMAX rather to an expensive LTE or 4G solution in one step.

Despite WiMAX infrastructure roll-out in South Korea, India, and the Middle East, there has been delay following delay in the USA. The last but one delay was instrumental in the US Sprint/Clearwire partnership breakup.

In other areas, such as in Europe, other projects are underway including the PIPE/.Freedom4 rollout in the UK but with very sparse coverage compared to other mobile broadband solutions. There are also concerns that there is little spectrum available in Europe for additional mobile allocation. WiMAX equipment suppliers including Alcatel Lucent and Samsung have had more success in the Far East (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam) and Africa rather than in Europe and the USA.

Any delays in WiMAX deployment leaves a gap to be filled by improvements to existing mobile broadband technology. Deployments of HSDPA are well underway and it looks like LTE will be following closely on its heels during 2010. The main argument for mobile WiMAX is that it would be cheaper and easier to deploy. This has not proved to be true at least for deployment worldwide.

Spectrum is needed for any mobile broadband technology (licensed or unlicensed) and there is little sign of many incumbent mobile operators with available spectrum taking up the WiMAX option.

Fig. A2 – Worldwide WiMAX Consumer Box Production, 2004-2013 (Millions of Units)Source: Future Horizons, UK

However, WiMAX is not yet dead despite these negative signs and we expect WiMAX to grow through the next five years even though the next 18 months will be a testing time for this technology.

Fig. A2 shows the Future Horizon’s unit production forecast for WiMAX consumer access boxes from 2004 to 2013. Production depends on increasing deployment by mobile operator incumbents as well as new entrants to the mobile telecommunications business. The economic downturn seen in 2008 and 2009 will delay higher growth till 2010.

Semiconductor spotlight – semiconductor LEDs
LEDs have now become commonplace in backlighting for notebook PCs and TVs replacing fluorescent backlighting in many cases. The use of these has grown from about 8 percent to an estimated 29 percent this year.

The popularity of the smaller netbooks with smaller screens has been a key factor. LED use will spread to larger screen formats and will represent the majority of backlight in these applications during early 2012.

In addition to these applications other LED lighting applications have also been growing, especially in the last two years. As a response to this demand, Cree has upped production capacity and staff this year. Other companies involved in LED production include SemiLEDS, Philip’s Lumileds in Europe and Seoul Semiconductor of Korea.

LED lamps are now available that can replace incandescent or even fluorescent lighting in some cases. It is already seen in flashlights, decorative lighting, traffic lights, supermarket shelf lighting, automotive lighting and architectural displays.

Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) are likely to be more widely adopted by the automotive industry. Canada and Scandinavia have been early adopters of DRLs and there is increasing evidence that DRLs are saving lives. Because of this, DRLs may soon become law in other countries. In the drive to save energy, customised LED DRLs will grow over the next few years and add to the other lighting uses of LEDs in automotive applications.

Approximately 20 percent of global electricity consumption goes on lighting. By 2020 at least half of this will be reduced by eliminating incandescent light bulbs and their replacement by LED or fluorescent lamps as well as improved lighting control. Summits like the current Copenhagen climate conference are likely to strengthen this trend. The good news for the semiconductor industry is that additional LED and semiconductor production will be needed to meet demand.

Another application for LEDs is in test, measurement and medical applications. The main use of LEDs in these equipments is in sensing, detection and analysis. A common medical application for LEDs is in a sensor that attaches to a finger to measure oxygen saturation levels in the blood. LEDs can be made with either inorganic or organic semiconductors.

The most common LED is the inorganic type. White LEDs are made of an InGaN-GaN structure that is covered with a yellowish phosphor coating. Since yellow light stimulates the red and green receptors of the eye, the resulting mix of blue and yellow light gives the appearance of white.

These products are continuously improving with several novel techniques being patented for high brightness and ultra high brightness LEDs by the main competitors in the market, namely GE, Osram and Philips.

Organic LEDs (OLEDs) are lighter in weight than inorganic equivalents, and polymer LEDs have the added benefit of being flexible. OLEDs are used in lighting and displays on curved surfaces such as lamps and wall decorations. OLEDs are also found in mobile phones and multimedia players.

Fully self illuminating displays are available that use an OLED matrix and these are currently available in some small screen TVs produced by Sony but these displays are very expensive and require complex driver circuitry.

The brightness of an LED depends on its forward current, and this has to be controlled tightly to avoid damage or severe reduction of lifetime. To meet this requirement, there is a growing market for LED driver/current controllers supplied by a number of companies including Cypress, Intersil, Maxim, Linear Technology, National Semiconductors and Texas Instruments.

Although the LED market is growing, one of the barriers to wider adoption is price. Despite the very high efficiency of LEDs in converting electrical energy to light, they are currently four to five times the cost of an equivalent fluorescent lamp.

However, reducing costs of production in the future are almost certain if the normal path of semiconductor development and competition holds true. The current drive to ‘save the planet’ will also help boost development and uptake.

On a more seasonal note, many more Christmas decorations supplied in retail outlets this year, including Christmas tree lights, have LEDs instead of incandescent lamps. In many senses of the word LEDs are, indeed, lighting the way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

VLSID 2010 to focus on affordable technologies for emerging markets

The 23rd International Conference on VLSI Design and the 9th International Conference on Embedded Systems (VLSID 2010) will be held at the NIMHANS Convention Center in Bangalore from January 3 to 7, 2010.

Over 700 delegates from India and abroad are likely to participate in this premier VLSI conference. It provides a forum for researchers and designers to present and discuss various aspects of VLSI design, electronic design automation (EDA), enabling technologies and embedded systems.

The first two days of the conference will feature full day tutorials by worldwide experts and the main technical program of the conference will be held on the following three days.

Dr. Biswadip (Bobby) Mitra, President & Managing Director, Texas Instruments India will inaugurate the conference on January 5, 2010.

I was in conversation with Dr. Mahesh Mehendale, General Co-chair VLSID 2010 and Texas Instruments Fellow & Director, Center of Excellence for Digital Video, Texas Instruments India, and Dr. Srivaths Ravi, General Co-Chair VLSID 2010 and DFT Lead at Texas Instruments India.

According to Dr. Mehendale, this year’s conference has a theme “Affordable Technology for Emerging Markets”. The intent is to focus on what it takes to build low-cost chips and systems for emerging markets and applications. Some of the sessions revolve around this theme.

He added: “We are also looking at technology trends such as CMOS scaling; challenges in 22nm and beyond; what’s beyond CMOS scaling – 3D ICs, new materials, new structures etc. Another trend is system level integration, which is heterogeneous in nature — for instance, MEMS, wireless sensor networks, micro-fluidics, etc., are among the other topics being covered.

“We have several eminent keynote speakers this year. To name some of them, we have the father of Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) — Dr. Larry J Hornbeck, Texas Instruments Fellow and inventor, the chip that became the basis for Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology, visiting us this year. He will talk about DMD and DLP. Dr. Walden C Rhines, Chairman & CEO, Mentor Graphics, is another keynote speaker. He will be speaking on ‘Delivering 10X Design Improvements’.”

The complexity of what we build on a device continues to go up. SoC is getting redefined from system-on-a- chip to systems-on-a-chip and software-on-a-chip, he added. Hence, the embedded system focus of the conference. These systems target specific applications, so there will be talks covering some of these important application domains, such as an embedded tutorial on HD video architecture.

The event hosts a talk on telemedicine by Sham Banerji of i2i TeleSolutions as part of the theme session on Wednesday, January 6. In terms of coverage, across keynotes, theme sessions, panel and embedded tutorials, the conference has a very high profile program.

On January 3-4, there will be mainly tutorials on these two days. The topics will cover the various aspects of VLSI design. It will also look at testing as an important component.

Webcasting for first time!
This year, for the first time, the organizers of the VLSID 2010 conference will be webcasting the entire conference live! That’s great news!

Dr. Mehendale said: ”We are taking the conference to the desktops of the professionals and people who may not be able to attend in person! On days 3, 4, 5 (i.e., the main conference program), we will be webcasting three of the four sessions. We are considering recording the fourth session and make it available for relay later.

“The main conference program will have four parallel tracks. The keynotes will run as plenary and will cut across all tracks. On the first two days of the technical program, in addition to three paper presentation tracks, we will have industry forums on January 5 and January 6, where we have invited technical experts from the industry to present on focus areas. We are excited about the quality of the technology programs that we are bringing in.”

What’s in it for students?
Lots, it seems! For students – this year, for the first time, the conference is supporting professionals in transition. “As a part of the conference’s Fellowship Program, we offer free tutorial and conference registration to around 75 persons. The event provides a good opportunity to develop new expertise and skills,” added Dr. Mehendale.

So, who can attend this conference from the student community? First, someone who’s working in VLSI — they can register for the conference. Two, on day 3, there is an Education Forum is targeted for students who are really initiating into the field of VLSI. They can register for this one-day event, hear the keynotes and attend the Forum. Three, the education forum will be webcast as well. “Bangalore has always been a good host for this conference. We are expecting higher attendance than 2009,” he said.

As per Dr. Srivaths Ravi, the VLSI conference is traditionally held in the first or second week of January every year, and is now considered is a premier event across Asia. There is also a good deal of recognition and awareness among people.

He said: “For ensuring participation and awareness, we are taking help of an email broadcast. We have also been reaching out to the VLSI community — industry, as well as academia. VSI, the co-ordinating body, is making sure that we reach out to students and faculty in India.

“Externally, we do it through liaisons outside India – Europe, the US and Japan. We do want to create an awareness among the newer crowd. The availability of webcasts will ensure that the penetration of the conference into small towns can happen. This vision and model will benefit the semiconductor industry in the longer term.

“This event provides the perfect platform for global players in the semiconductor ecosystem from academia and industry to get together to create the continuous knowledge sharing and learning needed to keep the Indian VLSI professional on the leading edge of design, EDA.

“Today, with the VLSI design conference in India, we do not need an engineer travel to a DAC or ISSCC to keep himself or herself abreast. That is a key contribution. That in addition to the continuous efforts of VSI, ISA, and the government will be what it takes to propel the Indian semiconductor industry.”

How can this conference help job seekers?
Dr Mehendale noted: “We will have over 20 companies who will exhibit in the event. In the past, some companies have reached out to students through their booths. It will be probably continued this year as well. Most companies are represented through their leaders and key engineers.”

Dr. Srivaths Ravi added: “Many students are also interested in VLSI research. They can get the opportunity to meet faculty from overseas and Indian universities.”

I hope to attend the conference and blog about it. Keep watching this space, friends.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Intel unveils next generation Atom processors

Intel has launched the new Intel Atom platform, which is said to be coming soon to a netbook and entry-level desktop near you! This includes:
– Intel Atom processor N450 for netbooks.
– Intel Atom processor D410 and D510 for entry-level desktops.
– Intel NM10 Express chipset.

With these next generation of Atom processors, Intel has extended leadership in netbooks. These processors deliver features that consumers desire in netbooks and entry-level desktops, such as lower power, sleeker form factors, enhanced performance and continued affordability. Further, the announcements indicates that Intel remains committed to its Atom roadmap and continued investment and innovation in this category.

Features include the integration of graphics and memory controller into processor and lower power, enhanced performance and enhanced battery life. All of the new chips run at 1.66GHz. Pricing and availability will be announced in January as systems become available from OEMs.

According to David McCloskey, Client Platform Marketing Manager, Intel Asia Pacific, there has been a strong growth in the netbooks category, and these are expected to show continued strong growth, and are likely to grow at a CAGR of 47 percent during 2008-2013.

Likewise, netbooks and service providers have been growing together as well. In fact, strong growth is visible among service providers offering netbooks. Service providers are likely to sell nearly 18 percent of all netbooks sold in 2013.

So, where is the growth occurring in desktops? As per Intel, desktop growth is being forecasted strong in small form factor and all-in-one devices. Intel already has over 80 design wins for netbooks and over 50 design wins for entry-level desktops.

The announcements indicate platform integration for netbooks and entry-level desktops. According to Intel, the Atom processor was designed from the ground up for small devices and low power, and remains Intel’s smallest chip, built on the company’s 45nm high-k metal gate manufacturing process.

The overall package, including chipset, just got smaller due to the increasing integration and 45nm manufacturing, which means smaller, more compact system designs, lower costs for OEMs and improved performance.

Another feature is the move from three-chip to two-chip solution, thereby facilitating lower power and enhanced performance via higher integration. Intel adds that next generation purpose-built Atom architecture enables lower power and increased form factor flexibility.

For netbooks, it means 20 percent lower power and 60 percent reduction in package size. For entry-level desktops, it translates into 50 percent lower power and 70 percent reduction in package size.

Intel is also providing the OS of choice for OEMs and consumers. They can either opt for Windows 7 Starter & Home Basic, Windows XP Home or Moblin.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 10 telecom predictions for 2010!

Well, well, well! We are close to the end of 2009! Nearly a year ago, I'd written about the top 10 telecom trends for 2009! Wonders of wonders -- they've been bang on! Here's what they were, according to me!

Top 10 predictions for 2009
1. WiMAX vs. LTE -- when will this debate get over and done with?
2. Growth of 3G services in places where it hasn't taken off or started!
3. IPTV -- well, it needs to catch up and grow substantially.
4. More of GPS enabled devices as mobile navigation attempts to grow stronger.
5. Near field communications. A report elsewhere on the web talks also about NFC phones starting to roll out in Taiwan.
6. Further adoption of femtocells... hope the Forum does much, much more in 2009.
7. Embedded Internet devices.
8. Carrier Ethernet should gain steam.
9. More of mobile VAS and mobile Web
10. More of mobile OS wars.

What's up for 2010? Top predictions
1. For one I don't see anything radical happening in 2010. However, I must mention a particular technology -- xMAX -- a new technology that bypasses the traditional cell phone networks to bring lower calling costs to the market. This disruptive technology is likely to shake things up a bit! So, for 2010, I have hopes to see xMAX being more in the news.

2. Is there room to accommodate WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) specification? It can be a trend, but well, the adoption would be more in the consumer electronics segment. Nevertheless, these are two new technologies I've heard about.

3. Yes, 4G/LTE has also been introduced by TeliaSonera -- which claims to be the first in the world to do so. 2010 could well be its year.

4. Next, Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig), the organization advancing the adoption and widespread use of 60 GHz wireless technology worldwide, announced the completion of its unified wireless specification. Will it start to show steam in 2010? Remains to be seen!

5. There's also the VoLGA (Voice over LTE via Generic Access). In fact, Kineto recently announced the industry’s first VoLGA access network controller.

So, I have five new things to report. If you have others, please share, and let's try and see where 2010 will be headed.

The rest of the predictions will likely a mixture and carryover of 2009 -- the industry has been so boring this year! All I've heard is about mobile applications and application stores. Wonder what's happened to good old fashioned telecom stuff!

Right, Ive been requested to list five other trends… Are they trends or facts? You decide!

6. More smartphones and mobile applications; also wireless netbooks. Am sure, you’ve heard of Intel’s announcement of next-generation Atom platform. If not, see the next post. Intel reportedly has been working closely with mobile operators and modem vendors to advance 3G capabilities in netbooks in established and emerging markets.

7. More growth of 3G services. And, I hope it finally sees the light of the day in India!

8. Perhaps, more mobile application stores and integration of mobile social networking with other applications, including m-commerce, as Juniper Research also says.

9. NFC phones should start making an appearance.

10. More LTE networks (and also, WiMAX)… the debate continues!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 ending with lot of positives for global semiconductor industry

Friends, I’ve been receiving lot of information lately regarding the state of the global semiconductor industry. Let me share some of those with you, here.

First, from my favorite, IC Insights. It said recently that after the slump of 2009, the electronics systems sales is likely to set new sales record in 2011!

Following the worst economic recession in over six decades, global sales of electronics systems are projected to fall 11 percent in 2009 to $1.11 billion from a record-high $1.24 billion in 2008, according to the just-released 2010 edition of IC Insights’ Integrated Circuit Market Drivers report. This year’s drop is only the third annual decline in the history of electronics systems sales — following 2001 and 2002.

According to IC Insights, the electronics equipment market is forecast to rebound in 2010 with the total value of systems shipments growing 7 percent to $1.19 billion. Another 9 percent increase in systems sales is expected in 2011, which will push global electronics equipment revenues to a new record-high $1.29 billion. IC Insights sees 2010 recovery year being led by 9 percent rise in revenues for communications systems and automotive electronics.

Next, from iSuppli, another one of my favorites. It reported that following a strong performance in the global NAND flash memory market in Q309, Japan’s Toshiba Corp. led the way with its revenue improving by nearly 50 percent during the period. Wonderful!

Incidentally, the global NAND flash memory revenue in Q3 rose to $3.94 billion, up 25.5 percent from $3.1 billion during Q2. That’s excellent!

Here’s another one — from SEMI, which recently reported that the global semiconductor manufacturing equipment billings had reached $4.54 billion during Q309. This figure is 69 percent higher than the second quarter of 2009, but 31 percent less than the same quarter a year ago. Nevertheless, this news is also encouraging!

Also, Gartner reported that global semicon revenue had declined $29 billion in 2009, with revenue totaling $226 billion in 2009, an 11.4 percent decline from 2008. Now, this is expected, given the tough year we have had. Here are Gartner’s top 10 global semicon vendors.

I have another release, this one from the venture capitalists (VC) community — the Venture View 2010, the annual predictions survey conducted by the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA).

Clean technology is likely to be industry where most VCs predict growth with 54 percent forecasting higher investment levels in 2010. Other favorable industries include Internet (46 percent predicting higher investment levels), Media and Entertainment (33 percent) and Software (32 percent).

The semiconductor industry is the sector in which most VCs believe we’ll see a decrease next year. Sixty-four percent predict lower investment levels in 2010.

Many venture capitalists believe that the wireless sector will experience declines with 37 percent predicting lower levels for next year as well.

Well, I don’t quite agree!

Especially, with regard to semiconductor and wireless. However, it is evident that VCs are looking at segments where they can get returns much faster, and that’s quite understandable.

Finally, borrowing a quote from Future Horizons’ Malcolm Penn from last month, where he said, “We now see the market declining only 10 percent over 2008, a truly remarkable recovery considering the abyss we were staring into just this time last year.”

So true! Who would have imagined such positive news, as above, to have come out during the end of 2009 — by far, the worst year in this decade for the global semiconductor industry. Still, the VCs don’t want to invest here? Why? Perhaps, they have either miscalculated or did not expect the recovery to be as swift as it has been so far!

The year is ending with a lot of positives for the global semiconductor industry. Let’s hope for a strong performance in 2010. I leave it to all of the pessimists to keep searching for negatives! In the meantime, I will bask in the glory of all the positives signs currently emanating from the global semiconductor industry.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cadence Virtuoso IC6.1.4 design platform comes with several enhancements

Last week, Cadence Design Systems Inc. introduced the Virtuoso IC6.1.4 — with dramatic improvements to the Virtuoso IC design platform — that reduces overall design time and ensures high-quality production ICs.

These enhancements are said to benefit design teams working along the full spectrum of design complexity, from the most advanced-node, cutting-edge designs to more traditional chips.

This release has been extended to work efficiently at advanced nodes down to 28 nanometers and now supports 64-bit processing for improved capacity and performance. The Virtuoso Space-Based Router has been integrated into the Virtuoso Layout Suite cockpit, making it easier to access.

I got into a conversation with Steven Lewis, marketing director, Cadence, to find out more about this release.

Lewis said: “Virtuoso IC61 was first shipped in October, 2006, over three years ago. IC614 is the latest release of this platform. IC61 is based on OpenAccess as a database with a Qt based GUI. Also, in IC61 a common design constraint system is key to design spanning schematics, layout, routing, circuit optimization, and all other Virtuoso applications.”

The IC 614 has a number of significant areas of enhancements. These include:

1) Significant improvements to analog design environment — A number of key enhancements have gone into ADE to make it even easier to use and to improve performance. Areas like: data presentation, multi-testbench support, analysis and signoff quality validation, data sheet generation, simulation results comparisons, and intelligent selection of sensitivity to statistical variations to dramatically reduce the number of simulations needed.

2) Native integration of the Catena interconnect engine — This enables integration of the Cadence Space-based Router into VLS-GXL, including the common design-constraint system, runtime OA database and OA techfile for design rules. In addition, the Wire Editor, which is based on this technology, is available to every VLS XL Layout Designer.

3) Metric-Driven Productivity — IC 6.1.4 is all about productivity, productivity, productivity. Many users of VLS spend six to eight hours a day in front of this cockpit and incremental improvements have a significant cumulative effect. IC 6.1.4 will:
* Reduce the mouse miles that a layout designer sees.
* Reduce the mouse clicks required for an operation.
* Reduce the menu depth for an operation.

And, how will the IC6.1.4 gain capacity, performance and usability boosts to shrink design cycles?

According to Lewis, there are a number of enhancements to frequently used features, like a new Layer Palette, improved Repeat Copy, enhancements to Via Placement, a new Smart Ruler, and PCell Caching. Additionally, there are improvements to the connectivity, constraint-aware editing and verification, and capacity with the 64-bit port.

Addressing other new design constraints
How much is this tool specifically geared to address sub-45-nanometer design yield challenges and so on?

Lewis said that Cadence had teamed up with other leading companies on 32nm design-rule constraints, and how these are represented in the OA tech file. This work will drive things like the Space-Based Router and design-rule-driven editing. Cadence has proposed to the Si2 the donation of this work with the approval of the collaborating companies.

The benefit of advanced node design rule support in the OA tech file is the interoperability with any OA-compliant tool that needs these rules defined to run. The router is a simple example. Any OA-based router will be able to access these design-rule constraints. This eases set-up for customers.

Design constraints easier to enter, manage and verify — Designers now have a robust assistant to aide the application of constraints. This makes the process of adding constraints like matching much faster. The ability to back-annotate layout constraints to the schematic has been improved. And finally, the ability to programmatically verify constraints is available. This will eliminate the manual checks that are done now, regardless of whether the design was manually laid out, or used some automation.

New 32nm rules donated to Si2 OpenAccess — This will provide all consumers of the 32nm design-rule constraints who use the OA tech file to leverage the work that Cadence accomplished and enable advanced editing and automation.

Cadence’s new PDK development intiative
I requested Steven Lewis to elaborate briefly on the new PDK development initiative inside Cadence in 2010, especially in terms of what it will achieve.

He said: “Today, there are over 100 SKILL-based foundry PDKs available for IC6.1 including advanced node and mature nodes from 28nm à 1.2um from TSMC, IBM, Jazz/Tower, UMC, Chartered, XFab, and others.

“In 2010, we will focus on direct engagement with resources for foundries, IDMs, and fabless companies to ensure that complete available for IC 61, SKILL-based PDKs. In addition, Cadence is also focused on providing PDK developers with a solution consisting of new functionality and existing applications for the development of object-oriented SKILL PCells and IC 61 PDKs.”

Finally, why release such solutions in patches?? Couldn’t these be handled in earlier releases? Lewis noted: “Releasing new technology in patch upgrades is common in the software industry. It is a way to get important new technology to customers as quickly as possible.”

Does this solution solve all of the serious EDA challenges? While Lewis agreed that no single EDA solution will solve all of the serious EDA challenges, he added, “We believe this release represents a significant step forward in custom IC and mixed-signal design, but there remains plenty of work to keep EDA engineers busy in 2010.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Has India done enough in the past to boost electronics hardware manufacturing?

I had mixed feelings on reading a press release on the recommendations from the Task Force set up by the Ministry of Communications & IT, Government of India in August 2009 to suggest measures to stimulate the growth of IT, ITeS and electronics hardware manufacturing in the country. However, I was quite surprised to see a news suggesting an amendment of the Indian semiconductor policy!

First, the Task Force’s recommendations. I’ll only focus on the electronics manufacturing bit! For electronics system design and manufacturing — it suggests the following:

* Establishing a ‘National Electronics Mission’ -– a nodal agency for the electronics Industry within DIT and with direct interface to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The nodal agency would help in the synchronized functioning of the Industry through effective coordination across Ministries and Government Departments in the Centre and the States and would enhance the ease of doing business.
* Nurturing established electronics manufacturing clusters and develop them into centres of excellence, while encouraging new ones.

Isn’t this old wine in new bottles? Also, have we really done enough in the past to even boost electronics hardware manufacturing in the country? If yes, then where are the mini Hsinchus and Shenzhens within India? Even N. Vittal had said something similar (such as developing mini Hong Kongs and Singapores) some years ago!

India already has an Electronics Hardware Technology Park (EHTP) scheme. The business of establishing key electronics manufacturing clusters and developing them into centres of excellence — while encouraging new ones — should have been taken care of much, much earlier! By much. much earlier — at least 10-15 years ago!

By the time the Task Force’s recommendations are acted upon, a year or two more would have easily passed! That stretches the manufacturing gap even further!

Let me ask one question: how well is India known globally for its local telecom manufacturing companies, or, even hardware manufacturing companies? Why am I asking this question? Well, when the National Telecom Policy was announced back in 1994. Many would recall there were a lot of astronomical bids — especially the ones from Himachal Futuristic. What many overlook is the fact that the period actually presented a brilliant opportunity before India to become a leader in telecom and electronics hardware manufacturing! However, that hasn’t and never quite happened!

The Indian electronic components story is more or less the same! India’s electronic components and accessories ecosystem industry is currently moderate. It used to be 15 percent and has now grown to 35 percent. This should be grown even further! Are we backing the electronic components segment enough?

What sort of guidance or hand holding will be provided to those firms who look to develop India-based product companies? For that matter, how many great software products have been conceptualized, designed and developed in India that are worth mentioning?

Further, an interesting fact brought up time and again within the Indian industry is the requirement of a robust entrepreneurial spirit, and the need for much more sources of funding for semiconductor product companies. Who all are helping the Indian semicon startups?

And then, there’s this news that suggests amending the existing Indian semiconductor policy! It is sheer bad luck that silicon IC fabs haven’t happened in India, as yet! Although HSMC and SemIndia started off with good intentions, things got sidetracked due to various reasons. Now, solar PV has attracted several players. It was also part of the semicon policy, isn’t it? So, where is the question of amending the policy?

Yes, there is definitely a need to develop strong entrepreneurial spirit within the country and encourage local product development, rather than remain contented with a services-oriented mindset and industry.

Last July, during the ISA Excite, there was an announcement that Karnataka would have its semicon policy soon. It hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will!

Nevertheless, here’s what I wrote last year on what India brings to the semicon world (and Japan), as I attempted to answer this question from a friend:

What are India’s strengths?
The clear strengths of the Indian semiconductor industry are embedded and design services! We are NOT YET into product development, but one sincerely hopes that it gathers pace.

The market drivers in India are mobile phone services, IT services/BPO, automobiles and IT hardware. India is also very strong in design tools, system architecture and VLSI design, has quite strong IP protection laws, and is reasonably strong in concept/innovation in semiconductors.

Testing and packaging are in a nascent stage. India will certainly have more of ATMP facilities. Nearly every single semicon giant has an India presence! That should indicate the amount of interest the outside world has on India. In fact, I am told, some key decisions are now made out of the Bangalore based outfits!

I had also suggested a 10-point program for the Karnataka semicon policy — in another blog post — on June 29, 2008. The points were:

1. A long-term semiconductor policy running 20-25 years or so.
2. Core team of top Indian leaders from Indian firms and MNCs, as well as technology institutes in Karnataka to oversee policy implementation.
3. Incentives such as government support, including stake in investments, and tax holidays.
4. Strong infrastructure availability and management.
5. Focus on having solar/PV fabs in the state.
6. Consider having 150/180/200mm fabs that tackle local problems via indigenous applications.
7. Develop companies in the assembly testing, verification and packaging (ATMP) space.
8. Attract companies in fields such as RFID, to address local problems and develop local applications.
9. Pursue companies in PDP, OLED/LED space to set up manufacturing units.
10. Promote and set up more fabless units.

There should be some steps to create specific zones for setting up such units — for fabs, fabless, ATMP, manufacturing, etc., all spread equally across the state.

Well, can’t all of this be extended across the country, rather than Karnataka alone? It sure can! What wasn’t done earlier, should be done now. Better late than never!

There’s also a lack of funding for certain semicon and hardware manufacturing areas/projects. This is another aspect that needs to be looked into.

As I’ve mentioned time and again to some friends within the Indian semiconductor industry and solar /PV industry — the semicon policy (earlier), and the National Solar Mission (now), are meant to help you guys! It is up to you — the industry folks — to make things happen! If you don’t, who will?

I am sure that the Task Force’s recommendations are very well thought out and quite robust. I don’t have the luxury of reading a copy, barring the release, and so there’s nothing for me to add. Best wishes to the Indian electronics hardware manufacturing industry and may it succeed greatly in future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cadence's Lip-Bu Tan on global semicon, EDA and Indian semicon industry

Here is an Outlook 2010 report on the global semiconductor industry, as well as the EDA industry, and a look at what lies ahead for India.

Lip-Bu Tan, president and CEO, Cadence Design Systems Inc., who was recently in India during the CDNLive event, is of the opinion that the global semiconductor industry is undergoing some significant changes that will further place new demands on the EDA providers.

Semicon industry trends
Speaking on the current trends in the global semiconductor industry, he said: "Semiconductor companies are becoming more focused on their core competencies, and are increasingly collaborating on a global basis. They are prioritizing capital efficiency, and they are looking for help in containing the costs of both hardware and software development."

With the emphasis on profitability, one trend that will continue to occur is consolidation. Semiconductor companies are consolidating in order to scale existing businesses, to grow by complementing existing product lines and to focus on strategic, differentiated or market-leading areas, and of course, to save costs.

He added: "The trend towards “fab lite” continued in 2009. AMD spun off GlobalFoundries, its Dresden, Germany fabrication facility, and the parent company of GlobalFoundries, based in Abu Dhabi, announced its intention to acquire Chartered Semiconductor. It appears that if this trend continues, there will be fewer integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) and fewer semiconductor manufacturers in the future, as fab costs for advanced processes soar.

"Globalization is another trend that will accelerate as economies become more interdependent. It can aid recovery, given that stimulus packages can be expected to uplift most major economies. Today, the best growth prospects appear to be in the developing countries.

"Success at globalization requires some new thinking. Companies must think “locally” in places they operate, taking advantage of local supply chains, markets, partners, and engineering talent. Cost optimization is a likely consequence of moving some operations offshore, but if it’s the only motivation, companies are likely to be disappointed. It is important that the business strategy drives globalization, not the other way around.

"Beyond consolidation and globalization, as I indicated earlier, collaboration may also continue to pick up speed. The design challenges at 45nm and below will shape the semiconductor ecosystem in 2010 and beyond. Technical challenges include process variability, signal integrity, design for manufacturability, timing closure, analog/mixed-signal circuitry, and low-power design. Solutions will require extensive collaboration between EDA, silicon IP, semiconductor, and foundry companies – no single company can do it all.

Global re-optimization of industry
Quite interesting, that Tan mentioned industry consolidation. Will there be further consolidations within the industry?

According to him, we have seen consolidation within the semiconductor industry in 2009 and it has been global in nature. What is occurring is a kind of global re-optimization of the industry. IC design, manufacturing, test, packaging, and product assembly are taking place in many different parts of the world, with multiple companies and geographically dispersed teams.

"Although, I think, we may see further consolidation in the coming year; beyond that, I can’t speculate on who will participate or when that will happen."

Semicon outlook for 2010!
How is the outlook for 2010 going to shape up now that some signs of recovery have appeared?

Lip-Bu Tan said that according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), after a decline of over 11 percent in 2009 as compared to 2008, the semiconductor industry is projected to grow by over 10 percent in 2010 and 8.4 percent in 2011.

"While an economic recovery is inevitable, and may already be taking shape, customers still remain cautious in their optimism. They are keeping a tight rein on research and development budgets. This is consistent with what we have seen with other downturns, and we expect the EDA industry recovery to lag a quarter or two behind the semiconductor industry."

Where is EDA industry headed in 2010?
On the same note, I inquired about the likely direction of the global EDA industry in 2010.

Lip-Bu Tan added: "EDA plays a central role in the design of all ICs and systems. There are many opportunities for EDA providers who understand the changing semiconductor environment.

"In 2010 and beyond, EDA providers must not only solve technology problems, but must also help customers reduce design and verification costs, differentiate themselves from competitors, and collaborate with partners on a worldwide basis. To do this, the EDA industry must focus on integrated solutions and close partnerships rather than simply selling point tools.

"One way to lower costs is by moving up in abstraction. Early attempts by EDA vendors to address system-level design started at the algorithmic level with a top-down approach, and had little connection to downstream implementation. They did not succeed. Now, however, EDA vendors such as Cadence have realized that it’s better to start with existing strengths in RTL design and move upwards incrementally to the transaction level.

"There are other critical areas for the EDA industry to address in 2010. Nearly all systems-on-chip (SoCs) today are mixed-signal, yet mixed-signal implementation and verification are increasingly becoming bottlenecks. Energy savings is a key driver of many electronics products, making low-power design a strong mandate. And functional verification, according to some studies, is a bottleneck that takes as much as 70 percent of the front-end design cycle."

To help solve these problems, Cadence offers integrated solutions in mixed-signal design, low-power design, and enterprise verification, in addition to system development and advanced nodes.

Finally, good EDA solutions must support collaboration by permitting geographically dispersed teams to communicate and work effectively together. And EDA standards are necessary so that customers can exchange IP and design data, and can outsource portions of the chip development process.

India has great potential
Finally, it is always good to hear about the estimate of the Indian semiconductor industry from global leaders.

Lip-Bu Tan said: "According to the Indian Semiconductor Association-Frost & Sullivan report update 2008-10, the total revenues of the Indian semiconductor market are poised to grow from $5.9 billion in 2008 to $7.59 billion in 2010 at a CAGR of 13.4 percent; marking a growing market despite a decline in the growth rate. India has great potential as a semiconductor market due to a huge domestic market for electronics equipment ranging from mobile phones to energy meters."

He added that growth for semiconductor companies will come from energy-related and low-power technologies that are able to drive the market share shifts. A number of semiconductor companies have already invested in or are considering investment in alternate technologies, such as green technologies like solar panels.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Global semiconductor sales forecast: Cowan’s LRA model

This is a continuation of my coverage of the fortunes of the global semiconductor industry. Here, I’d like to acknowledge and thank Mike Cowan, an independent semiconductor analyst and developer of the Cowan LRA model, who has provided me the latest numbers.
Here are the latest forecast results for 2009 and 2010 global semiconductor sales estimates associated with the forecasting model — the Cowan LRA model for predicting worldwide semiconductor sales.

The presently updated global semiconductor sales forecast estimates are based upon the recently published October 2009 actual sales numbers released by the WSTS.

The table details the latest, updated forecast numbers covering the next five quarters, that is, from 4Q09 through 4Q10, respectively, as well as for the full years of 2009 and 2010.

As the table below shows, the latest updates for years 2009 and 2010 chip sales forecast estimates increased by +2.6 percent and +2.1 percent, respectively, to $217.9 billion and $234 billion, compared to last month’s sales forecast estimates of $212.3 billion and $229 billion, respectively.

The updated 2009 and 2010 chip sales forecast estimates correspond to year-on-year sales growth forecast estimates of -12.3 percent and +7.4 percent, respectively, which represent a continuing improvement compared to last month’s sales growth predictions of -14.6 percent for 2009, but a slight decrease from last month’s sales growth forecast estimate of +7.9 percent for 2010.

Table Summarizing Latest Cowan LRA Model’s Sales & Sales Growth Forecast Estimates For Next Five QuartersRemember that the model is dynamic, that is, is recalculated each month as the year plays out; therefore today’s latest, updated full year sales growth prediction will not sit still but will evolve over the coming months.

Additionally, the model also projects a sales forecast estimate for next month, namely for November 2009. Thus November’s (actual) sales forecast estimate is projected to be $18.32 billion, which corresponds to a 3MMA (three-month moving Aaverage) sales forecast estimate of $21.45 billion as normally published by the SIA.

Watching the watchers
In addition to running his forecasting model each month, Cowan also monitors and tracks the semiconductor sales growth prognostications of a wide range of other semiconductor industry watchers (including both WSTS and SIA bi-yearly forecasts), thereby tracking what each of their respective predictions are for 2009’s sales growth (compared to 2008).A table (as well as a distribution graphic) summarizes (and pictures) the 2009 sales growth forecast estimates for 22 other market researchers (besides Cowan). As shown, ongoing revisions for each one of the market analysts 2009 sales growth estimates are listed along with the latest updates over the past month — nine during this reporting period – highlighted with (<== UPDATE).As is evident from perusing the numbers for the group included in the tables and plotted in the histogram, the most update 2009 sales growth prediction range is a relatively broad distribution displaying a tri-modal “signature” hovering around declines of -20 percent (5 forecasters), -17 percent (2 forecasters) and -11 percent (14 forecasters), respectively.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What WHDI 1.0 can do for consumer electronics!

Here’s a brilliant technological development that should interest everyone associated with electronics!

WHDI LLC today announced the completion and availability of WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) specification. Joe Kilmer at WHDI, Santa Clara, shared this information with me. Many thanks Joe!

What does WHDI do? Well, it enables full 1080p/60Hz HD with Deep Color at a distance of 100 feet and through walls. No other wireless standard combines this level of quality and robustness with the ease of multi-room wireless. WHDI thus enables consumers to build a wireless HD network in the home to take advantage of the latest content and interactive services.

A leading standard for wireless, multi-room distribution of HD video, WHDI will enable manufacturers to deliver higher value added devices that can connect the increasing number of HD sources (CE, PC and mobile devices) to TVs around the home.

By purchasing products featuring the WHDI logo, consumers will be able to use devices from different manufacturers that will simply and directly connect to one another and deliver HD content and services without the need for complicated and expensive wiring.

What’s so great about WHDI 1.0?
According to Joe Kilmer, WHDI enables consumers to build a HD wireless network in the home to take advantage of the latest content and interactive services.

The application areas include set-top-boxes, DVD players, Blu-ray, DVRs, game consoles, PCs (desktops, notebooks, netbooks), mobile devices (phones, PMPs, camcorders, etc.) to TV HD and wireless HD connectivity. It means, WHDI can be ported across all sorts of CE devices!

AMIMON and Maxim are said to be manufacturing the RF chips.Now, WHDI enables full 1080p/60Hz HD with Deep Color at a distance of 100 feet and through walls. Here, through walls should be multi-rooms (see image) -– wirelessly connecting a DVR in the living room to a TV in the bedroom -– and wirelessly connecting devices across and throughout the home.

Be aware that non-WHDI devices won’t be compatible with products having WHDI logo at this stage. Is there a way to overcome this?

Of course! It appears that consumers can use WHDI video accessories/dongles to connect and integrate legacy devices into a WHDI network.

So, what’s the technology behind WHDI – especially wireless?

According to Kilmer, Amimon’s video-modem is the basis of the WHDI standard. That said, all the promoters have contributed to the standard. The WHDI Consortium was formed by Amimon, Hitachi, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, LG Electronics.

Just when we all thought that we were future proof with HDMI 1.3, there’s talk brewing about HDMI 1.4. And, do all of these technologies mix in with WHDI? Kilmer added that WHDI is complementary to wired technologies such as DisplayPort, HDMI and DiiVA.

And, how does WHDI compare to DisplayPort and WirelessHD, if at all?

WHDI competes directly with WirelessHD! The key difference being: WirlessHD is in-room only, while WHDI enables whole home HD wireless connectivity.

The roadmap ahead for WHDI involves adding adopters to enable a WHDI ecosystem.

So, what should a company do to be able to acquire the license to the technology, especially, makers of CE devices in Asia, and elsewhere? Simply, companies can join in as WHDI adopters, and license the WHDI specification and trademark.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can Indian companies build $50 netbooks for Indian consumers?

Friends, how many among you are using netbooks? I would guess, some of you, surely! And how many of you have seen Shanzhai netbooks? Well, Shanzhai refers to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods, particularly electronics! Anyhow!

Why did I bring up this topic about developing a $50 netbook for Indian consumers? Recently, I had got into a conversation with Dr Satya Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Concept2Silicon Systems, and formerly, co-founder and VP Engineering and Technology at Open-Silicon, on this subject. Later, I did a little research on whether there are cheaper netbooks in China. Of course, there are!

Late September, it was reported that Shenzhen Imore (http://www.imore.cn/) had introduced a 10.1 inch netbook, the Webook A600, with a DVD-ROM. The specs are:
CPU Intel Atom N270 1.6G
Chipsets Intel 945GSE
RAM 1GB DDR2
HDD 160GB
Screen 10.1 inch 1024×600
CD-ROM COMBO
Wireless 802.11b/g/n
Ports 2×USB2.0, VGA, Internet, card-reader, ear phone, mic
Battery 2600mAh
Others 1.3mp camera
Size 260mm×193mm×31mm

First, is 1GB RAM enough? I am told that it doesn’t help with performance, especially, when using Vista, instead of XP. Those who are users of netbooks should be able to throw some more light on this aspect.

Now, I need to know: Who, in India, is capable of producing $50 netbooks? It can really be a huge market, especially, if the maker(s) can come up with what the Shanzhai makers are really doing — which is, not waiting for others to tell them what to do, but make what they think will be popular among consumers!

Features in a $50 netbook
That brings me to the features that Indian users may want to see in netbooks. But first, can an Indian company try to build its own microprocessor, which is somewhat close to the Atom N270? How about using SSD, instead of HDD? What about the display — STN or TFT? What sort of applications should be supported by the netbook? All high end or simply basic apps? What about gaming features? Should a $50 netbook support high-end graphics for gaming? Should it have a DVD-ROM?

Let’s start with the basics. To improve the quality of education in India, $50 netbooks would just be the right solution! These would be simply great for digital classrooms/virtual classrooms for education; for use in rural areas in e-governance — applications such as email, web browsing and chatting, printing of forms, etc.; maybe, it could help in telemedicine too. At least, the Web camera should be able to beam live images and audio — definitely not of extremely high quality, but certainly, something that would be helpful in places that aren’t connected with medical centers. Think high-volume, low mix product family, too!

Here, I recall a statement made by BV Naidu, chairman, ISA, during the recently held conference on embedded electronics during BangaloreIT.biz. He had said: “Our local markets should provide opportunities for the local companies. Access to global markets will help us grow.” Here’s just the perfect opportunity to roll things off!

Consider this aspect too — producing locally made netbooks could well boost the electronic components and accessories ecosystem industry in India, which is currently moderate.

During the same conference, Ittiam’s Srini Rajam gave an indication for the MIDs/netbooks opportunity — a price target of Rs 12,500, with an opportunity forecast of 2 million units per year. Can the price tag of Rs. 12,500 be brought down further? Perhaps, yes!

India is said to be the global leader in embedded design. Well, here is an opportunity for the Indian embedded developers to produce something brilliant for the country.

So, what features should a $50 netbook have? Surely, email, instant messaging and voice chat, and Web browsing, OpenOffice, perhaps, for Office applications, and some low end games. Do we need anything more than this? Gaming? Perhaps, no, but having it won’t be a bad idea either. Storing MP3 songs? Maybe, a few. If more, the better! Do we need a DVD-ROM? Let the maker (or market) take a call on that! I’d say, yes, given the Indian (and global) habit of watching movies on the notebook (or netbook).

Now to the specs for such low-end netbooks. Do we need the Intel Atom processor? Which Indian company can build an inexpensive processor to handle such applications? Will a STN LCD do? Perhaps, yes. Or, even, TFT, if the LCD modules are made available cheaper. What about the screen size? Maybe 8.2 or 10.2 inch — have your pick! And the RAM? Perhaps, 2GB, supporting XP, or Vista, if it is not hindering performance. Next, memory — 160GB or 320GB HDD, or even SSD — if these are inexpensively available. Should it have a DVD-ROM? Perhaps, yes. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity — perhaps, yes!

As they say, India is home to core competencies — from chip design to software and system design. The strong growth of the domestic market adds the vital dimension. With the right EMS strategy, the volume market can be served with world class solutions.

You know what? All of this may seem quiet fancy! However, this is probably the kind of opportunity that exists in India. Perhaps, netbook lovers may find these features and suggestions rather queer. However, think consumers, think literacy, think telemedicine, think rural areas, think simple PC applications, think local manufacturing! It may all start to make some sense!

We have ultra low-cost mobile phones. Why not ultra low-cost netbooks? The price tag of Rs. 10,000-18,000 for a netbook can be brought down to Rs. 2,000-3,000, with some local flavored innovation. What do you think?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Xilnx intros six new development kits for Targeted Design Platforms

Xilinx recently announced six new development kits as part of its Targeted Design Platforms (see July 2009 archive).

These kits will enable developers to focus on innovation and differentiation, while designing with FPGAs. The development platforms for Virtex-6 and Spartan-6 FPGA families are said to significantly shorten the time taken to reach the optimal levels of system performance, while ensuring lower levels of power consumption during SoC development.

High development costs are driving ASSPs to ultra high volume markets. There is also a growing ASIC/ASSP application gap. Vamsi Boppana, senior director and CTO, Xilinx India, said new FPGA powered application needs on the horizon include communications, smart grid, automotive infotainment, green IT surveillance, cloud computing, intelligent video, security infrastructure, etc.

Neeraj Varma, country manager, sales, India, Australia and New Zealand, Xilinx India, added that the kits are targeting embedded, DSP and building of systems requiring high-speed serial connectivity by providing design teams with optimized tool suites tuned to their design flow, fully functional IP and Targeted Reference Designs common to their areas of expertise.

In the Virtex-6 series, Xilinx is offering the connectivity kit, the embedded kit, both of whom are available, and the DSP kit -- which will be released in January 2010. In the Spartan-6 series, it is offering the connectivity kit, the embedded kit, both of whom are available, and the DSP kit -- which will be released in March 2010.

The kits support development of designs with Virtex-6 series FPGA family for compute intensive, high-speed, high-density SoC applications, or the Spartan-6 FPGA family for applications where size, power and cost are key considerations, besides performance.

Each kit is supported by an edition of the ISE Design Suite v11.4 (see April 2009 archive), which delivers a 25 percent runtime reduction for Spartan-6 FPGA designs and a 30 percent runtime reduction large, complex and highly utilized Vetex-6 SoC designs over the previous release.

Boppana added that the anatomy of a domain-specific kit includes:
* Scalable development board
– Enable migration up or down in same FPGA package,
– FMC connectors – extend base board functionality, enables ecosystem,
– Pre-configured with working Targeted Reference Design.

* Domain optimized design environment
– ISE Design Suite
> Hardware development flow supporting RTL or block level abstraction
> Embedded software development flow
> Advanced connectivity setup and analysis tools

* Targeted Reference Designs
– Optimized for system performance, power savings, and cost
– Enables system evaluation, performance measurement and analysis

* Complete documentation, source code, and IP cores

Targeted applications for the embedded design kits include wireless baseband and radio, image processing, processor acceleration for Virtex-6 and industrial control/security, automotive control, consumer for Spartan-6. Boppana also touched upon the case study of one of Xilinx's customers -- Tata Elxsi.

Using the pre-verified MicroBlaze processor sub-system with DDR3 memory controller and Gigabit Ethernet, Tata Elxsi was able to get the software up and running on the SP605 board within a few hours. It was also able to witness over 50 percent performance improvement compared to previous generation design.

Target applications for the connectivity design kits include wired communications, video switches, routers, etc. for Virtex-6 and Ethernet routers, industrial control hubs, storage, etc., for Spartan-6. Target applications for the DSP design kits include wireless radio, radar, medical MRI/CT/PET equipment, image recognition, etc., for Virtex-6 and femto/pico cell communications, consumer video, industrial camera, etc., for Spartan-6.

Hence, engineering teams can now finish their designs faster and focus on differentiation. The kits include all the hardware and software that designers need. This includes fully tested/supported Targeted Reference Designs.