Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Intel Promises to Sample Larrabee Processors in Late 2008

Intel Corp. said during a conference call with financial analysts that it will start to send sample of its forthcoming Larrabee processors in late 2008. Given that Larrabee project is believed to be related to Intel’s discrete graphics processing units (GPUs) and sometimes the latter are referred to as “Larrabee”, the claim may be viewed as Intel’s reiteration of plans to re-enter GPU market in 2009 or 2010.

“Larrabee first silicon should be late this year in terms of samples and we’ll start playing with it and sampling it to developers and I still think we are on track for a product in late ’09, 2010 timeframe,” said Paul Otellini, chief executive officer of Intel.

Intel left the market of discrete graphics processors back in the late nineties after the Intel 740 graphics adapter did not become a success. After that the company concentrated on creating very basic graphics cores to integrate into core-logic sets. However, since the demand towards high-performance graphics processing is increasing, Intel is currently working hard to increase performance of its integrated graphics processors (IGPs). Additionally, it is generally believed that Intel is working on discrete graphics chips.

If Intel’s discrete graphics processors emerge in late 2009 or early 2010, then it is unclear whether these GPUs support DirectX 10.1 feature-set, or are made according to Microsoft DirectX 11 specification. Given that the first samples of the Larrabee are set to emerge this year already, it is highly likely that the actual products will be produced using 45nm process technology.

Earlier rumours said that Intel Corp. plans to enter the market of standalone GPUs in late 2008 or early 2009. Therefore, the official plans to release the product only in ’09 or ’10 may indicate a delay, or may be too conservative.

AMD Tests 45nm Microprocessors, Plans Revenue Shipments in 2008

Advanced Micro Devices said during a conference call with financial analysts that it was pleased to receive and test its 45nm quad-core central processing units (CPUs). Despite of doubts by analysts and observers, the world’s second largest maker of x86 microprocessors is on track to release its chips made using 45nm process technology in 2008.

“It is exciting to point out too that at the same time, we’ve had silicon of a quad-core 45nm product […]. We’re […] pleased with the results and look forward to being able to ramp 45nm [process technology] aggressively in the second half of this year,” said Hector Ruiz, chief executive of AMD, during the most recent conference call with analysts.

Advanced Micro Devices said many times in the past that it plans to release processors made using 45nm process technology commercially in 2008, however, AMD’s track-record in the last two years as well as market rumours made many observers to express doubts regarding AMD’s capability to fulfill its promise.

“We’re trying to ramp as quickly as possible 45 nanometer, starting on Fab 38 and we continue to try to execute as quickly as possible to get new products out there, so we’re making those appropriate investments and as prudently as possible,” said Robert Rivet, chief financial officer of AMD.

AMD originally promised to start shipments of its 45nm processors in mid-2008, which means that the company would be about six months late with its new generation process technology compared to market leader Intel Corp., which started revenue shipments of its 45nm breed in late 2007.

The chief executive of AMD did not reveal when exactly the company plans to release its quad-core processors produced using 45nm fabrication process. Typically, “second half of the year” means late fourth quarter for Advanced Micro Devices, at least, judging by the recent track record of the chipmaker.

“We’ve got internal samples of our 45 nanometer microprocessors, we’re putting them through their paces currently and we’re on track to, the plans we talked about in the past which is to start our ramp in the first half of this year and ship revenue product in the second half of this year,” said Derrick Meyer, president and chief operating officer of AMD.

Panasonic and Renesas to Jointly Develop Semiconductor Process Technologies

Panasonic Corp., a leading maker of consumer electronics that also operates semiconductor manufacturing fab, and Renesas, a joint-venture between Hitachi and Mitsubishi Electric, have reportedly agreed to jointly develop next-generation chip fabrication technology.

Panasonic has been one of a few Japan-based makers of semiconductors who develop chip manufacturing processes itself. Thanks to that development, the company even managed to start manufacturing of its 45nm microprocessors for Blu-ray disc players ahead of Intel Corp., the world’s No. 1 maker of central processing units. However, as semiconductor manufacturing technologies become more and more complex, developers of process technologies team up to share expenses.

According to the Nikkan Kogyo newspaper, Panasonic decided to develop its 32nm technology with Renesas, the semiconductor joint-venture between Hitachi and Mitsubishi, another large electronics conglomerates from Japan, reports Reuters news-agency.

While both Panasonic and Renesas yet have to confirm the chip development pact, it is a general trend for chip manufacturers to join forces when it comes to research and development. For example, Toshiba and NEC Electronics develop next-gen process technologies in collaboration, whereas Advanced Micro Devices, Chartered and IBM not only develop fabrication technologies, but also share production-related know-how.

Ageia Technologies Denies Its Takeover by Third-Party

Ageia Technologies, the developer of so-called physics processing units (PPUs), on Tuesday denied reports about its acquisition by an undisclosed third party. The company said it remains independent and has a roadmap to execute.

The developer of physics processing units, dubbed PhysX, has been around for several years, however, due to the lack of many games that take advantage of PPUs the long-term success of Ageia has always been under question mark.

Currently Ageia is owned by a group of investors, including Apex Venture Partners, BA Venture Partners, HIG Ventures, Granite Global Ventures, CID Equity Partners, and VentureTech Alliance. Typically such companies are interested in either selling their startups to others, or making them public. However, this time Ageia denies any ownership change.

“We have no information about [the acquisition of Ageia]. There have been no changes [in the structure of investors]. As you know this kind of rumors pops up from time to time…” said Dan Forster, a spokesperson for Ageia Technologies.

Ageia’s PhysX is the world’s first physics processing unit (PPU), which offloads software physics processing from central processing units and graphics processing units to it. The architecture of the PhysX PPU is tailored for multi-threaded processing of vertexes, which allows game creators to develop detailed, soft and precise animation and simulation of movements, hair, clothing, liquids, fluids and other.

To take advantage of advanced capabilities the PhysX has, game developers have to create games using Novodex SDK supplied by Ageia, which requires some additional effort from them.

Fujitsu to Reorganize Semiconductor Business

Fujitsu Limited, a leading maker of various electronics, on Monday announced its decision to pursue the reorganization of its semiconductor manufacturing business divisions into a new subsidiary scheduled to be established within March 2008. The decision hardly comes as a surprise as numerous Japan-based electronics conglomerates recently announced plans to reorganize their chip manufacturing businesses.

The new subsidiary will enable Fujitsu to accelerate the growth of and intensify its focus on its ASSP (application specific standard product) business in addition to its ASIC (application specific integrated circuits) business, while moving forward with business development offering greater speed and flexibility that are characteristic of the LSI (large scale integration) industry.

Fujitsu also announced that development and mass-production prototyping of its advanced process technologies for the 90nm-generation and beyond will be consolidated to its Mie plant located in Mie prefecture of central Japan. Leveraging this consolidation, Fujitsu will strive to accelerate development of process technologies for 45nm-generation and beyond.

At present Fujitsu operates several semiconductor manufacturing plants in Japan, where it makes various chips for itself, its internal partners (e.g., Fujitsu Group or Fujitsu Siemens Computers) as well as external partners, among which are companies like S3 Graphics, graphics chip designer owned by Via Technologies. Since the company develops its fabrication technologies itself, it needs to streamline its operations considerably so that to remain profitable.

As part of Fujits’s initiative to structurally reform its LSI business, advanced process technology development for 90nm-generation and beyond, and 90-nm-generation logic LSI mass-production prototyping, functions which have thus far been conducted at the Akiruno TC plant, will be transferred to the Mie plant, which processes 300mm wafers. Transferring development operations to a single plant is likely to improve technology development timeframes at Fujitsu, while keeping the costs on approximately the same level as today.

The reorganization is scheduled to be implemented in March 2008. Details regarding the new subsidiary to be established as a result of the reorganization are currently under consideration, and are scheduled to be announced when available.

AMD Reportedly On Track with Next-Generation Graphics Chips

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, reportedly aims to release its next-generation code-named R700-series graphics processing units (GPUs) in mid-2008. The news comes as a surprise, as earlier it was revealed that the ATI R700-series chips are only due either in late 2008 or early in 2009.

According to a news-story by Chinese news-paper Commercial Times (which article was partly translated by DigiTimes web-site), AMD’s code-named ATI RV770 GPU is due to be commercially released in late Q2 2008. Two of such chips are projected to power AMD’s new high-performance ATI R700 graphics card.

The new graphics solutions, which official name is likely to be ATI Radeon HD 4000, are expected to feature new architecture, which will be more efficient compared to current ATI R700-series.

The first ATI RV770 chips have been reportedly delivered to graphics cards makers, however, there is no information regarding performance or feature-set of the new series of graphics products. The new family of ATI’s GPUs is expected to boost competitive positions of AMD on the market and help to fight back the lost market share from Nvidia Corp.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.