Thursday, April 24, 2008

AMD, Intel Increase Revenue Share in Worldwide Microprocessor Market

Revenue market shares of Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp., the two main producers of x86 microprocessors in the world, increased again in the fourth quarter of 2007, recently released figures from iSuppli market tracking firm show. The results are logical due to strong demand towards PCs in general and notebooks in particular as well as addition of quad-core microprocessors into lineups.

In the global microprocessor market – consisting of x86, RISC and other types of general-purpose devices – AMD in the fourth quarter grew its share by 0.3% over the third quarter of 2007, whereas Intel increased its revenue share by 0.2% points sequentially, according to iSuppli’s final fourth-quarter ranking.

In Q4 2007 Intel’s revenue share in the market of central processing units (CPUs) was 78.9%, AMD’s revenue share was 14.2% and other producers of microprocessors commanded 6.9% sales of chips.

Combined, AMD and Intel accounted for 93% of overall processor revenues in the Q4 2007, up 1.6% from the fourth quarter of 2006. On an annual basis the two accounted for just over 92% of market revenue in 2007, a gain of 1.4% points from 2006.

“With strong PC demand in the fourth quarter, particularly in the notebook segment, microprocessor average selling prices (ASPs) for both AMD and Intel held firm. Global unit shipments of PCs in the fourth quarter rose by 14.2% compared to the same period in 2006. This strong demand, along with increased sales of higher-end microprocessors, helped to sustain ASPs,” said Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for Compute Platforms Research at iSuppli.

However, when comparing the fourth quarter 2007 results to the same period in 2006, only Intel grew its share, with its slice of the microprocessor market rising by 3.1% points. In contrast, AMD lost 1.5% of worldwide CPU revenue share.

AMD’s Next-Gen Micro-Architecture in Development, Bulldozer Samples Due in 2009 – AMD

A lot of mystery surrounds roadmaps of technology companies due to their constant intention to find the rivals completely unaware of the plans. But if competitors usually are alert about the plans of each other thanks to espionage, the analysts and market observers have hard times understanding plans of companies like Advanced Micro Devices.

At the most recent conference call with financial analysts AMD’s president and chief operating officer Dirk Meyer said that the next-generation micro-architecture and processors on its base code-named Bulldozer were in development with first samples due in 2009. What Mr. Meyer did not say is when the final central processing units (CPUs) were scheduled to arrive, a piece of information that both analysts and investors are curious to know.

“The Bulldozer core is in development in 45nm [process] technology and we will be sampling that in 2009,” Mr. Meyer told the audience.

Any transition to a new-generation micro-architecture and processor design is closely tied to transition to a new process technology. Chipmakers want to improve fabrication technology as much as possible before starting to make brand-new CPUs, therefore, manufacturing technology conversion happens before transition to new chip designs.

The same applies to 45nm manufacturing process and Bulldozer processors. It was originally expected that AMD will be in position to start volume production using 45nm process technology by mid-2008, but the company is going to ship 45nm CPUs in volume only in Q4 2008. But will it affect the Bulldozer lineup. It may, or may not.

Based on track record of AMD’s transitions to new to new process technologies and micro-architectures in the last six years (see table below), the following can be noticed:

* It takes AMD from 3 to 6 quarters from commercial introduction of process technology to introduction of a radically new chip design based on this technology.
* It takes AMD from 4 to 5 quarters to shrink/improve a bit a CPU using a new process technology from the initial introduction of the chip.
* AMD’s K7 lived for 4 years, AMD’s K8 lived for 4 years, but was meant to live for 3.5 years.

Considering AMD’s recent history, if AMD succeeds in initiating volume shipments of 45nm processors code-named Shanghai, Deneb and others in Q4 2008, the Bulldozer has some chances to be unveiled in late 2009 (if it takes 3 to 4 quarters to make it after AMD initializes 45nm shipments on time), but that is not likely, as in that case K10 will live for only 1.5 years. In a little worse case scenario, the chip will be released in Q1 2010 or Q2 2010 (if it takes AMD 5 to 6 quarters to create Bulldozer after 45nm intro), inline with previous transition histories. However, it Bulldozer does not fit into typical pattern of AMD CPU introduction from the production technology point of view, the chip may be unleashed only in late 2010 or even 2011, which is inline with micro-architecture transition plans.

Intel Reduces Pricing on Quad-Core Chips by up to 50%

Intel Corp., the world’s top maker of x86 central processing units (CPUs), on Monday slashed pricing on numerous desktop and server microprocessors. As a result of the price-cut the most affordable desktop quad-core chip at Intel now costs just $224. Pricing of dual-core chips and single-core chips was also reconsidered.

The two chips which price was decreased by 50% are Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 and Intel Xeon X3230 for 1P systems, both of which operate at 2.66GHz, sport 8MB of cache and use 1066MHz processor system bus. The aforementioned quad-core microprocessors now cost $266 in 1000-unit quantities, down from $530. Intel also reduced the price of Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 and Intel Xeon X3220 (2.40GHz) by 16% to $224.

A little less than a year ago Intel already decreased pricing of certain quad-core microprocessors by 47% - 50%, hence, the order of magnitude of the most recent price slash is not surprising. What is a little surprising is that Intel keeps the price of its quad-core chips at $224 and above, whereas AMD already lowered the cost of its most affordable chip with four processing engines – AMD Phenom 9550/9500 – to $209 in business quantities.

In addition to make its quad-core processors which are mostly aimed at performance-demanding users Intel also slashed the pricing of numerous quad-core chips aimed at masses. Besides, the chipmaker quietly introduced several new processors, including two Intel Core 2 Duo chips made using 45nm process technology.

Video Game Consoles Set Another Unit Sales Record in March – NPD Group

Sales of video games as well as game systems set another record in the USA in March, according to data by NPD market tracking company. Both dollar-wise and unit-wise sell-through figures of entertainment hardware and software increased dramatically last month with Nintendo Wii being the platform to benefit the most from the raise.

“You’d never know that the U.S. economy was under distress by looking at the video games industry sales figures. Year-to-date growth is a rock-solid 27% through March 2008,” said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in a statement.

With no supply constraints and with incredible demand, Nintendo Wii managed to increase its sequential sell-through figure by 66.9% to 721 thousand units sold in March, up 178% year-over-year. Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 game console managed to recapture its second place with 262 thousand units sold to gamers from Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.’s PlayStation 3, which was acquired in the quantity of 257 thousand. Sony PlayStation 2 posted weaker sequential result, but remained relatively strong with 216 thousand units shipped.

Despite of the fact that Microsoft Xbox 360 merely recaptured its second place from Sony PlayStation 3, the company still indicated that it could not supply enough game consoles to the market throughout the whole month.

“Going into March, some key U.S. retailers were still experiencing the trickle down effect of Xbox 360 console shortages. By the end of March, supply issues had improved and we expect retailers to be fully stocked with Xbox 360 consoles in time for the Grand Theft Auto IV launch,” said Microsoft representative said.

Portable game consoles also faced strong demand in March ‘08 with 698 thousand Nintendo DS and 297 thousand of Sony PlayStation Portable devices sold through, NPD figures show.

“Across hardware, software, and accessories, the Wii contributed the most to total industry sales, representing 31% of total industry dollars for the month,” Mr. Fazier added.

Video game console hardware sales – including both non-portable and portable systems – grew 46% year-over-year to $551.3 million. Unit sales increase of full-sized game machines increased 63% annually from 890 thousand to 1.456 million, NPD data shows. March software sales saw a 63% increase year-on-year to $945.6 million.

“Nintendo systems represented 58% of all video game hardware sold in March in the United States. We expect our momentum to continue with big upcoming game launches like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit,” said Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America vice president of sales in Nintendo.

Intel Designs Data Sharing Software for Healthcare Industry

Intel Corp. has been developing various computing platforms for the healthcare industry for several years now, but without the properly made software hardware can hardly bring any benefits and in order to address that issue the chipmaker has developed Intel SOA Expressway for Healthcare, software that provides an efficient way to exchange healthcare information inside hospitals and with health information networks

Until now, the sharing of patient information among healthcare network participants has been hindered by the steep costs and complexities of proprietary data and integration services. Based on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Intel SOA Expressway for Healthcare offers a cost-efficient solution to this problem by providing scaleable way to translate, process and connect any data format across a healthcare network.

In addition, world’s largest producer of x86 microprocessors has created a group of validated independent software vendors (ISVs) that provides capabilities to deploy a complete health network powered by the Intel SOA Expressway. Current validated ecosystem vendors include Apelon, Infotech Global (IGI), Initiate Systems, Oracle and Red Hat. Services provided by these vendors include controlled medical vocabulary translation, clinical patient portal applications, enterprise master patient index, clinical data repository and operating system support. The validated ecosystem helps complete next-generation SOA architecture for healthcare data interoperability.

Intel SOA Expressway for Healthcare provides the performance of a hardware appliance in a software form factor that offers native message acceleration for rapid data exchange, workflow management and translation to enable data exchange to and from any original format. This advance in software is an example of how technology can help improve patient care and reduce healthcare costs by streamlining information flow.

In order to make Intel SOA Expressway for Healthcare as versatile as possible, Intel designed it as a flexible product offering that can stand alone as the gateway to and from a community health information network or can be bundled as part of an ISV solution.

The software solution has been successfully piloted with several healthcare providers, including at a hospital network in Shanghai, according to Intel.

“Intel SOA Expressway for Healthcare solved a very difficult hospital integration scenario for us. We were surprised to see that it was able to meet our performance requirements for daily synchronization of nearly a million hospital records in a short amount of time,” said Shen Ping, general manager of health services division at Wonders Information Co, the systems integrator deploying the Shanghai health network.

“Intel has developed the SOA Expressway for Healthcare as a platform that can be used with a wide variety of existing IT environments to provide world-class integration regardless of the specific electronic medical records and other software platforms used at individual healthcare facilities. We also leveraged the SOA architecture to drive down costs, which has enabled Intel to offer our solution at prices comparable or below other solutions in the market,” said Renee James, vice president and general manager of Intel’s software and solutions group.

Apple Acquires Power Architecture Processor Developer

Apple, a leading maker of portable digital media players as well as developer of Macintosh personal computer, has acquired PA Semi, a designer of Power-architecture microprocessors with whom Apple already held talks several years ago. While Apple does not provide any colour to the information, the rumoured sum for which the company got PA Semi implies that the Cupertino, California-based company has serious plans.

According to unofficial information, Apple paid $278 million in cash for PA Semi, but there are no direct or indirect proves for this. PA Semi was founded in 2004 by Dan Dobberpuhl, who earlier designed Alpha and StrongARM processors at Digital Equipment (DEC) back in the nineties. The company employs engineers from Advanced Micro Devices, Intel Corp. and Sun Microsystems who have a lot of experience in creating advanced microprocessors.

So far the most notable achievement of PA Semi has been dual-core PA6T-1682M PWRficient processor with dual-channel DDR2 memory controller and 2MB level-two cache made using 65nm process technology based on the Power architecture. The chip consumes only 5W – 13W – 25W while running at 2GHz. Performance of the central processing unit is not known, but it was embraced by telecommunication, networking and wireless companies. Besides, it is rumoured that Apple was in talks with PA Semi regarding usage of its chips inside Macs.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purposes and plans,” said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling in an interview with Forbes.

At the moment Apple uses x86 microprocessors from Intel Corp. inside its personal computers and it is generally unlikely that the company is interested to get back to Power architecture when it comes to Macs. However, Apple utilizes chips from a variety of suppliers for its products like iPod, iPhone, Time Capsule and others, which makes development of such devices rather complicated. As a result, with its own microprocessors, Apple can streamline its operations and show its supplier Intel that it is Apple, who picks up the chips, not Intel who feeds what it has.

Elpida Memory and Qimonda Agree to Form Technology Partnership

Elpida Memory and Qimonda AG, both leading global suppliers of dynamic random access memory, announced on Thursday that had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a technology partnership on joint development of memory chips (DRAMs) and process technologies for their manufacturing.

In the planned cooperation, Qimonda will provide its know-how with the innovative buried wordline technology (which is usually called “trench technology” in DRAM world) and Elpida its advanced stack capacitor technology (which is normally called “stack technology” in DRAM industry). The strategic technology cooperation will leverage the strength of both companies to accelerate their roadmap to DRAM products featuring cell sizes of 4F². Current industry standard cell size is 8F², whereas some memory manufacturers, namely Micron and Samsung, can boast with 6F² cell sizes.

Elpida and Qimonda plan to introduce the jointly developed innovative 4F² cell concept in the 40nm generation in calendar year 2010 and to subsequently scale it to the 30nm generation.

“This strategic cooperation with Elpida is a tremendous endorsement of our innovative buried wordline technology. Qimonda will leverage this partnership to significantly accelerate the introduction of small 4F² cell sizes. This technology alignment of two major DRAM innovators creates excellent opportunities for greater economies of scale in R&D and future joint manufacturing activities,” said Kin Wah Loh, president and chief executive of Qimonda AG.

The companies plan to jointly develop technology platforms and design rules to enable both exchange of products and potential manufacturing joint ventures. Both companies target to align their development activities at their respective sites in Hiroshima and Dresden, including the exchange of engineers. Additionally, the companies also have agreed to explore joint development opportunities in the areas of “Through Silicon Via Technology” and future memories.

“Our R&D effort has given us the lead in DRAM technology. In the tough, competitive industry that we are in, however, faster and more efficient development of new process technologies is becoming critically important. We believe this joint development agreement with Qimonda will further accelerate and strengthen our technology leadership, putting us on a path to the top position in the DRAM market,” said Yukio Sakamoto, president and chief exec of Elpida said.

Following today’s MOU, Qimonda and Elpida expect to conclude their negotiations and finalize definitive agreements in due course.

Earlier this week another two experts in “trench” and “stack” DRAM production technologies – Nanya and Micron Technology – decided to form memory joint venture. Qimonda also has joint-venture with Nanya called Inotera.