Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Intel Indicates Speedy 45nm Production Ramp, Shipments Crossover in Q3

Despite of delays of quad-core microprocessors produced using 45nm process technology, Intel Corp. is on track with the 45nm production ramp up plan and expects shipments volumes of products made using 45nm and 65nm fabrication technologies to crossover in the third quarter of the year.

“I did show that slide at the investor meeting and it shows a crossover [between 45nm and 65nm chips] in the third quarter and we are still on track to that and we are ramping as fast as we can. […] At this point in time, we’ve shipped in excess of 8 million units, so we are moving very quickly up the ramp curve,” said Paul Otellini, president and chief executive officer at Intel.

At present Intel has two 300mm fabs that produce chips using 45nm process technology – D1D in Hillsboro, Oregon, and Fab 32 in Chandler, Arizona. Two additional 45nm, 300mm manufacturing factories are scheduled to open this year in Kiryat Gat, Israel (Fab 28) and Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Fab 11x).

The transition to 45nm process technology is important for Intel as it allows to manufacture higher performance Intel Core 2 Duo and Quad processors at relatively low price. Moreover, successful ramp of 45nm fabrication process also ensures that Intel will be on track to ramp up manufacturing of microprocessors based on the next-generation micro-architecture code-named Nehalem.

With more than 50% of Intel processors being based on the latest Penryn micro-architecture in the third quarter, the largest maker of microprocessors in the world will have even more competitive chips, which is a serious threat for Advanced Micro Devices, who only plans to add one more AMD Phenom processor into lineup (model 9950, 2.60GHz) in Q3 before starting its transition to 45nm later during the year.

Intel on Tuesday announced record first-quarter revenue of $9.7 billion, operating income of $2.1 billion, net income of $1.4 billion and earnings per share (EPS) of 25 cents.

“Our first quarter results demonstrate a strengthening core business and a solid global market environment. We saw healthy demand for our leading-edge processors and chipsets across all segments. Looking forward, we remain optimistic about our growth opportunities as we continue to reap the benefits of our 45nm technology leadership,” said Mr. Otellini.

Asustek Unveils Eee PC with Larger Screen

Asustek Computer, a leading producer of computer components and notebooks, on Wednesday officially unveiled its Asus Eee PC 900, a long-anticipated version of the company’s affordable sub-notebook with larger screen and larger storage capacity. The new laptop is likely to appeal to larger audience than the previously available models due to higher comfort of use. However, the comfort comes at a price.

The new Asus Eee PC with 8.9” screen that has 1024x600 resolution features the same Intel Celeron M ULV model 353 (900MHz, factory downclocked to 630MHz) and Intel 910 core-logic with built-in graphics core as in the currently available models. But the notebook with larger screen also comes with 12GB (Windows XP version) or 20GB (Linux version) of flash memory for storage, 1GB of DDR2 random access memory and 1.3MP webcam. All Asus Eee PC laptops feature three USB ports, audio jacks, 10/100Mbps Ethernet support, wireless WiFi (802.11b/g) interface as well as a card-reader.

The inclusion of the 8.9” display screen does not affect the overall weight of the Eee PC 900, which remains below 1kg – making it easy for children and women to carry it around; and maintains the ultra portable theme that has become synonymous with the Eee PC.

The new Asus Eee PC 900 also incorporates an innovative FingerGlide feature that makes operating the Eee PC easy and convenient. For example, with just two simple finger movements on the touchpad, users will be able to zoom in and out of pictures or scroll up and down for easier document viewing.

“Due to its lightweight stature, most users will place the Eee PC on their laps or hold them in their hands during use. With the addition of the FingerGlide feature, users will find it even more convenient to use the Eee PC,” said Jerry Shen, chief executive officer of Asustek Computer.

Asus Eee PC 900-series with 12GB solid-state drive will cost €399 ($636) in Europe, but the price for the USA is not clear at the moment.

IBM Demos New Material, Claims Breakthrough in Process Technologies

IBM and its joint development partners have announced that they had collectively demonstrated significant performance and power consumption advantages over industry standards by using a breakthrough material known as “high-k/metal gate” (HKMG) on silicon manufactured at IBM’s 300mm fab in East Fishkill, New York. The new material is set to be used for making 32nm chips.

“These early high-k/metal gate results demonstrate that by working together we can deliver leading-edge technologies that handily surpass others in the industry,” said Gary Patton, vice president for IBM’s semiconductor research and development center on behalf of the technology alliance.

The alliance said it had assessed performance improvements on 32nm technology circuits of up to 35% over 45nm technology circuits at the same operating voltage. The 32nm power reduction over 45nm can be as much as 30 to 50% depending on the operating voltage. In addition, testing on product library test chip and industry standard microprocessor critical paths has shown performance improvements of up to 40% over conventional (Poly/SiON) technology at the same technology dimensions.

The performance and power improvements have been observed in HKMG evaluation circuits and test chips on silicon manufactured at IBM’s semiconductor fabrication facility.

“Demonstrating this caliber of result in a practical environment means that as our collective client base moves to next-generation technology by using the ‘gate-first’ approach, they will continue to maintain a significant competitive advantage,” added Mr. Patton.

The list of IBM’s partners who co-developed HKMG material includes Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Freescale, Infineon Technologies AG, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba Corp.

The Common Platform alliance partners – IBM, Chartered and Samsung – are the first in the original equipment manufacturing (OEM) foundry industry to unveil a HKMG technology in the 32nm technology generation. A low-power 32nm technology design enablement package with fully compatible ground rules for extendibility to the 28nm technology generation is now available. Silicon support for low-power 32nm HKMG technology will be available through a prototyping shuttle program starting in the third quarter of 2008, with plans for quarterly shuttles.

“The semiconductor marketplace remains one of the most competitive in the world. Early market introduction combined with strong product differentiation is critical to success,” said Dirk Wrister, director of process technology at Freescale.

Feasibility results from HKMG devices built at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s Albany NanoTech Complex indicate this process can be extended to 22nm, demonstrating that improvements resulting from the use of HKMG can continue to be delivered in successive technology generations.

Nvidia Readies Major Product Launch of Tegra

Nvidia Corp., the main supplier of discrete graphics adapter as well as variety of multimedia chips, prepares to release a product called “Tegra”. Few details are known, but this is very likely to be a major product launch.

Nvidia recently applied for “Tegra” trademark with the U.S. patent and trademark office, but did not disclose any details about the product. However, there are various signs which indicate that Tegra will be a major product for Nvidia, the company which is not known for registering multitude of trademarks that are not eventually used.

The description of Nvidia Tegra at the U.S. patent and trademark office is short “G & S: Integrated circuits” and does not provide any details about the forthcoming product. It is not clear whether Tegra is Nvidia’s and Via Technologies’ mobile computing platform, a new specialized platform like Tesla, a new name on the market of discrete graphics processing units (GPUs) or a completely new multimedia chip from the graphics giant.

Nvidia is currently working hard to enter new markets as its chipsets are becoming less popular now that Advanced Micro Devices is developing its own core-logic sets thanks to ATI Technologies acquisition 1.5 years ago, whereas the market of discrete graphics processors is somewhat limited. Moreover, when Intel introduces its discrete graphics processor in several quarters the market of standalone graphics cards will change dramatically.

Nvidia did not comment on the news-story.

Nvidia Describes Next-Generation Graphics Processor

Nvidia Corp., the world’s largest provider of discrete graphics processors, said at a press conference that it plans to launch its next-generation graphics processor this Summer. The new product code-named GT200 is projected to dethrone the current flagship GeForce 9800 GX2, but it is not clear whether it will also bring new features.

The new graphics processing unit (GPU) for high-end market from Nvidia is projected to consist of about one billion of transistors and feature “around” 200 unified shader processors (more likely to be 192 or 240), reports Golem.de web-site citing Jeff Brown, general manager of the professional solutions group at Nvidia. It is unclear whether Nvidia GT200 sports DirectX 10.1 feature-set or are compatible with DirectX 10 only.

Nvidia’s latest high-end GPUs, which are code-named G92 and G80, consist of 754 and 681 million of transistors, respectively. The previous-generation high-end DirectX 9 graphics chips – G70 and G71 – featured 304 and 278 million of transistors, which means that the current generation high-end chips are more than two times larger compared to predecessors in terms of transistor count. Considering these facts, one billion of transistors inside GT200 is not a surprise.

The new-generation Nvidia GT200 is projected to be released in Summer and Nvidia will start to brief the media about the product starting from May, the web-site reports without providing any additional details.

It is also not known whether Nvidia plans to continue using the GeForce brand-name for GT200, or intends to introduce a new trademark.

AMD’s Chief Technology Officer Steps Down

Advanced Micro Devices on Friday announced that chief technology officer at the company will resign and will not be replaced. The company indicated that at the moment the company has five chief technology officers at different business divisions and there is no need for a chief technology officer at AMD.

As chief technology officer Phil Hester was responsible for setting the architectural and product strategies and plans for AMD’s microprocessor business. Mr. Hester was the head of the AMD technology council, ensuring that product development, integration, and process organizations align technology capabilities with product direction. Mr. Hester joined AMD in 2005, when the company was solely a maker of central processing units, whereas after the acquisition of ATI Technologies in late 2006 the world’s second largest maker of x86 chips became a provider of graphics processing units, multimedia chips for consumer electronics as well as core-logic chipsets.

Before joining AMD, Hester was co-founder and chief executive officer at Newisys, a Sanmina-SCI company, and spent 23 years at IBM serving in a variety of key leadership and executive technical roles. While at IBM, Hester led a number of system technology development efforts, including the RS/6000, and served as one of 15 members of the IBM corporate technology council.

It is unclear which projects at AMD were coordinated by Phil Hester, though, it is widely believed that he was involved into the creation of AMD’s processors with built-in graphics cores, code-named Fusion and Swift.

Currently AMD has five chief technology officers at five product divisions:

* Raja Koduri – Graphics chief technology officer
* Mark Bapst – Handheld chief technology officer
* Samir Hulyalkar – Digital TV chief technology officer
* Mike Goddard – Client chief technology officer
* Rich Oehler – Server chief technology officer

Nvidia and Via Plan to Offer Ultra-Mobile Platform - Report

After Intel Corp. started to promote its Intel Atom processors for ultra-mobile and low-cost devices it became clear that affordable mobile personal computers are here to stay. This may be a reason why Nvidia Corp. and Via Technologies have signed a secret pact under which they plan to offer platforms for low priced systems.

According to a news-story by DigiTimes web-site, Nvidia and Via Technologies had inked a “cooperation agreement”, under which Via C7 and C8 central processing units (CPUs) coupled with core-logic sets with built-in integrated graphics core from Nvidia will “form a new VN platform”.

The first products of the Via-Nvidia (VN) platform are projected to emerge on the market in Q1 2009, just a few months after Intel Atom-based devices are expected to hit the mass market.

Intel Centrino Atom platform features CPU, core-logic, graphics core as well as input/output controller, which essentially leaves behind all the companies that produce the aforementioned components. As a result, companies like Nvidia, Via, Silicon Integrated Systems and other will have to fight for their place on the market of mobile and handset systems.

Advanced Micro Devices, which is the world’s second supplier of x86 CPUs, a provider of graphics products and the main rival of Intel Corp., yet has to answer to Intel’s Atom. The company has been talking about its “x86 Everywhere” strategy for years, however, the company has not disclosed any plans to compete against Atom-based devices. However, this does not mean that AMD has no intentions to be inside portable computers.

Nvidia and Via did not comment on the news-story.

Intel Sells Off Enterprise and Storage Assets to Emcore

Intel Corp., the largest maker of x86 microprocessors in the world, and Emcore Corp., a leading provider of compound semiconductor-based components and subsystems for the broadband, fiber optic, satellite and terrestrial solar power markets, said on Thursday that they had reached a definitive agreement for Emcore to acquire enterprise and storage assets of Intel’s Optical Platform Division as well as the Intel Connects Cables business.

“Customers are driving consolidation and vertical integration in the optical communications market segments. We will work together to complete a smooth transition of these businesses, building upon the experience in the telecom optical components acquisition,” said Doug Davis, vice president, Intel digital enterprise group and general manager of embedded and communications group.

Emcore will issue 3.7 million shares of restricted stock for the acquisition, with certain adjustments based on Emcore’s stock price twelve months after the closing of the transaction. The assets include intellectual property, inventory, fixed assets and technology relating to optical transceivers for enterprise and storage customers, as well as optical cable interconnects for high-performance computing clusters. The transaction is expected to close in Q2 2008.

The acquisition further enhances Emcore’s presence in the optical communications market segments, especially in the areas of 10Gb Ethernet and storage area network transceivers. This allows Emcore to provide a more complete product offering to a broad range of customers.

“Following the successful acquisition of the telecom-related assets of Intel’s optical platform division, this second acquisition from Intel enables Emcore’s Fiber Optics to be a significant supplier for both telecom and datacom products. This acquisition will provide additional manufacturing efficiencies through economies of scale and vertical integration, benefiting our enterprise, storage, telecom, cable and high-performance computing customers,” said Reuben F. Richards, executive chairman at Emcore.

The sale of these optical-related assets will enable Intel to focus its investments on core communications and embedded market segments in line with its platform strategies. Intel will continue its efforts on the universal serial bus 3.0 specification, which is slated to support optical, and silicon photonics research and development.

“Emcore projects this asset will add $45 million in revenue for the next 12 months, increase gross margin from 23 to 29% and be accretive to earnings. The Intel Connects Cables business provides an innovative solution for high-performance computing cluster interconnect applications, using embedded parallel optical transceivers with a multi-mode fiber ribbon. Emcore expects this business to have gross margins exceeding 50% and to be the fastest growing segment of the acquired assets,” Mr. Richards added.

HP Releases Notebook to Compete Against Asus Eee PC

HP, the world’s largest maker of personal computers, this week unveiled a small form-factor laptop designed for education markets. The new HP Compaq 2133 Mini-Note will compete for the market of affordable sub-notebooks that are becoming more and more popular across the globe, even though official positioning of the device is a cost-efficient solution for education markets.

“Education shouldn’t end at the bell. HP believes providing each student with an affordable, creative multimedia tool like the HP Mini will better prepare them to live, learn and work in an information-rich society,” said Jeri Callaway, HP’s vice president and general manager of personal systems group in Americas.

Business and mobile professionals value the same mobility, usability and cost concerns of the education market these days. The “HP Mini” provides mobile professionals a sleek, lightweight device that gives access to information and the ability to collaborate with others as well as to communicate via email, instant messaging or blogging.

The announcement by HP further outlines importance of low-cost personal computers during fears about recession of the economy. What is even more important, HP does not save on quality of the device and the Compaq 2133 sports numerous features that are aimed to make it sturdier: the system itself comes in anodized aluminum shell that is sleek and sturdy yet lightweight; HP DuraKeys, featuring a clear coating applied over the notebook keyboard that protects the finish and printed letters and characters; HP 3D DriveGuard, which sends a signal to shut down the hard drive upon sudden movement or shock by using a three-axis digital accelerometer chip; the display of the device is scratch resistant.

HP’s Compaq 2133 Mini Note is based on Via C7-M central processing unit, Via core-logic with built-in Chrome 9 graphics core and comes with 8.9” (1280x720 resolution), built-in webcam, speakers and other modern input and output capabilities. The Compaq 2133 Mini Note laptops weigh 2.63lb/1.19kg when equipped with 3-cell battery as well as solid-state drive.

The cost of HP’s low-priced sub notebooks begins at $499 for the model with Via C7-M 1GHz processor, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 4GB flash memory for local storage and SUSE Linux 10 operating system. The most advanced HP Compaq 2133 for $749 comes with Via C7-M 1.60GHz chip, 2GB of DDR2 memory, 120GB hard disk drive and Windows Vista operating system.

EMC Plans to Take Over Iomega

Just a few months after Iomega Corp. announced plans to acquire hard drive maker ExcelStor, EMC, an information infrastructure solutions company, said it would take over Iomega, which specializes in various data storage solutions for consumers and small businesses.

EMC and Iomega said that the two companies had reached a definitive agreement for EMC to acquire Iomega in a cash tender offer of $3.85 per outstanding share, or approximately $213 million. The addition of Iomega’s products, brand name, route to market and industry expertise will enhance EMC’s reach and focus in the rapidly-growing consumer and small business markets.

EMC intends to commence the tender offer in the next two weeks, with completion of the tender offer expected in the second quarter of 2008, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. The acquisition is expected to have no material impact on EMC financial results for the full 2008 fiscal year.

“Iomega will play a key role in EMC’s strategy to expand our information storage and management capabilities deeper into the high-growth consumer and small business markets. In addition to industry-leading products and a household consumer brand, Iomega brings to EMC a deep knowledge of and established business practices for servicing consumers and small businesses,” said Joe Tucci, EMC chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Upon completion of the acquisition, Iomega will serve as the core of EMC’s new consumer/small business products division. The new division (led by Jonathan Huberman and reporting to Joel Schwartz, senior vice president and general manager, EMC storage platforms) will also include EMC Retrospect and EMC LifeLine software. EMC plans to build the division around the strength of the Iomega organization, brand, products and partner ecosystem.

“Today begins an exciting new future for Iomega and our customers. Once the acquisition is final, Iomega will be able to fully leverage EMC’s vast assets to grow our business globally. EMC brings to Iomega a new opportunity for accelerated innovation that will translate into new product capabilities for Iomega’s extensive customer base,” said Jonathan Huberman, chief executive officer of Iomega.

Advanced Micro Devices Re-Initializes Shipments of Quad-Core AMD Opteron Processors

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday said it re-started shipments of quad-core AMD Opteron processors for servers and workstations after stopping supplying them late last year due to a bug. Besides, the company also quietly unveiled higher-speed quad-core Opteron chips, which makes the lineup more competitive against Intel Corp.’s quad-core Xeon family.

“AMD did not feel comfortable shipping a chip with the problem. We’re glad to have this one errata behind us. This is a product we’ve been waiting to offer for a long time,” said Steve Demski, AMD Opteron product manager, reports IDG news-services.

Back in November, 2007, AMD discovered that due to a bug in the quad-core processor’s Translation Lookaside Buffer (TLB) the system may crash under high load. While no end-users complained about such a problem, AMD decided to impose a fix for the erratum. In the meantime, AMD stopped to ship its quad-core AMD Opteron chips for servers and workstations. The B3 stepping of both AMD Phenom and AMD Opteron processors are TLB-related error free, however, it took the company nearly half a year to start commercial shipments of such chips after the bug was discovered.

In addition to reinitiating shipments of quad-core AMD Opteron processors the world’s second largest maker of chips also unveiled nine new chips with four processing engines operating at higher clock-speed than before. The new AMD Opteron processors 2300- and 8300 series operate at 2.10GHz, 2.20GHz and 2.30GHz with 75W thermal design power (TDP), whereas the new “Special Edition” quad-core processors with 125W TDP can run at 2.40GHz and 2.50GHz.

With faster chips for serves and high-end workstations AMD Opteron lineup becomes not only more competitive against Intel’s family of quad-core Xeon processors, but allows AMD to sell the newly unveiled chips at higher price-points, which boosts the company’s revenues and profitability.

Super Talent Unveils “World’s Tiniest” 8GB Flash Drive

Super Talent Technology Corp., one of the leading suppliers of advanced memory products, this week announced what it claims to be the world’s tiniest USB flash drive that can store 8GB of data. A good news for consumers is that the tiny drive of record capacity is hardly expensive.

The new tiny 8GB USB flash drives belong to Super Talent Pico family of products that includes three different types of enclosures: water-resistant Pico-A with a swivel lid (38.7mm x 12.4mm x 3.9mm), retractable Pico-B (31.8mm x 18.8mm x 4.4mm) and miniature rugged water-resistant Pico-C (C: 31.3mm x 12.4mm x 3.4mm). All the drives are available in capacities of 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. Pico Series USB drives feature up to 30 MB/s (200X) transfer speeds.

The tiniest 8GB drive on earth, according to Super Talent, is Pico-C, which weighs just 4.7 grams and can be held on a tip of a finger or kept inside a small wallet compartment for coins.

The tiny drive that features capacity of two DVDs is something that can catch attention of technology enthusiasts, but market prospects of the device may not be exceptionally good from the start. Customers seeking for miniature devices may not be interested in 8GB capacities, whereas those, who demand to carry a lot of data with them may get USB flash drives that can keep 16GB or 32GB of information.

Super Talent Pico-C 8GB USB 2.0 flash drive costs about $37 in online stores in the U.S.