Sunday, July 20, 2008

Intel Denies Accusations of Illegal Business Practices

Intel Corp. was rather quick to respond to allegations of European Commission, which accused the world’s largest maker of x86 central processing units (CPUs) of illegal business practices which ultimate goal was to exclude Advanced Micro Devices from the market of x86 chips. The company said that all allegations were unfounded and that the market was still highly competitive.

“We’re naturally disappointed the Commission has decided to issue a new statement of objections (SO). The issuance of a second SO suggests that the Commission supports AMD’s position that Intel should be prevented from competing fairly and offering price discounts which have resulted in lower prices for consumers,” a statement by Intel reads.

The European Commission said in its supplementary statement of objections (SSO) that Intel provided discounts or rebates to companies who sold its products almost exclusively or delayed/cancelled AMD-based computers. In addition, the EC accused Intel of selling its chips below average price in order not to let its Sunnyvale, California-based rival to win certain strategic contracts.

“We will evaluate this newest SO and respond fully, but it’s clear that the allegations stem from the same set of complaints that our competitor, AMD, has been making to regulators and courts around the world for more than 10 years,” the statement of Intel continues.

According to EC, business practices of the world’s most influential developer of microprocessors have led to virtual monopolization of the EU CPU market by Intel. But Intel strongly disagrees and claims that the market of microprocessors is functioning without issues.

“We are confident that the worldwide microprocessor market is functioning normally and is highly competitive in Europe and elsewhere. Intel’s conduct has always been lawful, pro-competitive and beneficial to consumers,” Intel said.

Intel claims that constant increase of CPU performance and decreasing prices show more than anything else that the market is healthy enough.

“As evidence of the existence of a highly competitive and innovative microprocessor market, consumers have benefited from prices that have gone down significantly, output has increased many times over, and the performance of products, including ours, has improved exponentially,” Intel stated.

Sony Has No Plans to Cut PlayStation 3 Pricing – Company

Despite of the fact that Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. yet has to catch up with Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii video game consoles in terms of unit sales, chief financial officer of Sony Corp. said that the company had no plans to reduce the pricing of the latest game machine, but wants to concentrate on profitability of its business.

“This year, our strategy is not to sell more quantity for PS3 but to concentrate on profitability. Our plan is not to reduce the price,” said chief financial officer of Sony Corp Nobuyuki Oneda, reports AFP news-agency.

Sony hardly needs to drop the price on its PlayStation 3 right now to compete against Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 as the console from the software giant is not considerably more affordable than comparable PS3. Still, there is Nintendo Wii, which retails for $249 in the USA, a much lower price than that of Sony PlayStation 3 40GB, which is sold for $399.

Earlier chief executive of Sony – Howard Stringer – said that he did not consider Nintendo Wii, which has outsold Sony PlayStation 3 by two times, as a competitor for the PS3 due to much lower performance, image quality and inability to play Blu-ray and DVD movies.

Sony has invested billions of dollars into development, promotion and subsidies into PlayStation 3 game console, which is why it is logical for the Japanese conglomerate to concentrate on profitability now. However, with relatively small install base of PS3 accompanied by difficulties to create games for the platform, some developers may decide to reduce the effort they put into making games for Sony PlayStation 3.

Sony PlayStation 3 console is based on the Cell processor developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the RSX graphics chip by Nvidia Corp., wireless network and Bluetooth connectivity and is equipped with Blu-ray optical disk drive. There are several versions of the consoles available around the world with different hard disk drives and variable compatibility with PlayStation 1/2 games.

Micron and Seagate to Lead Solid State Drive Standardization Efforts at JEDEC

Following announcement of the intention to standardize solid state drives (SSDs) last August and a subsequent survey of storage industry companies, a subcommittee scope was defined to develop standards for SSDs used for embedded or removable memory storage at JEDEC, a standard setting organization. What is quite surprising is that Seagate Technology, a hard drive maker, will co-chair the committee with Micron Technology.

“The industry needs to adopt more comprehensive standards for solid state drives to accelerate global acceptance of SSD products at optimal performance levels, for the greatest benefit to consumers,” said Mian Quddus, chairman of the board of JEDEC.

The responsibilities of JEDEC Committee 64.8 (JC-64.8) include defining new form factors leveraging existing interface standards (command protocols and electrical interfaces), mechanical interconnects, environmental aspects, and electrical quality, reliability, and durability methods and procedures that are not included in the interface standards. Applicable portions of proposed documents will be done in cooperation with other JC-64 subcommittees, JEDEC committees JC-11, JC-14 and JC-16, as well as with external standards organizations, such as the T10 and T13 technical committees of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO), USB 3.0, and others.

Seagate Technology, the world’s largest producer of hard disk drive, has never been a strong believer in SSDs due to their high cost per gigabyte compared to HDDs. In a recent interview the firm even said that it sees almost no prospects for solid state drives in mobile or server markets, not talking about desktops. Still, the company also recently sued a maker of SSDs for alleged patent infringement. But while Seagate officially sees no value in flash-based storage, it realizes that going forward the technology may gain value as the prices of flash are constantly decreasing, whereas reliability of the chips is increasing.

Thanks to Micron’s expertise in flash and Seagate’s experience in creating hard drives, the tandem provides a knowledge base from major companies in the two industries to the subcommittee.

Companies considering a variety of SSD technologies are encouraged to contact the JEDEC office to become involved with the JEDEC standards development for SSDs.

Sony Cuts Price on PlayStation 3, Axes Backwards Compatibility Too

Sony Computer Entertainment America has announced that starting from Fall ‘08 it would offer PlayStation 3 model with 80GB hard drive for the price of $399. Unfortunately for PlayStation fans, the new model may not be backwards compatible with games released for previous-generation platforms.

Starting in September 2008, the newly announced PlayStation 3 80GB model will become the mainstay of the company’s hardware line-up. The 80GB model will retail for $399, and will offer all of the features and functionality of the 40GB model with double the storage to accommodate more movies, graphics, music, photos and other entertainment content. Unfortunately, this also means that the 80GB model will not be compatible with games for Sony PlayStation and PlayStation 2 video game consoles.

It is unclear whether Sony plans to offer backwards compatible PlayStation 3 model going forward in the USA at $499 price-point. In fact, there is no backwards compatible PlayStation 3 models in Japan already.

Sony Computer Entertainment claims that cutting-down backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 is not something completely negative, as growing library of games developed for the advanced new-generation game system should substitute the lack of previous titles. Moreover, not a lot of gamers would like to play older titles developed for standard-definition TVs on brand-new high-definition televisions. But while these points may be correct for so-called hardcore gamers, which play a great variety of games, casual customers who currently own a PlayStation 2 have no reason to transit to the new-gen console due to the lack of casual games for PS3. As a result, they may migrate to Nintendo Wii, which features unique motion sensitive controller as well as a relatively rich library of simplistic games.

Sony PlayStation 3 console is based on the Cell processor developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the RSX graphics chip by Nvidia Corp., wireless network and Bluetooth connectivity and is equipped with Blu-ray optical disk drive. There are several versions of the consoles available around the world with 60GB or 80GB hard disk drives and variable compatibility with PlayStation 1/2 games as well as 40GB version that cannot play old games at all. The official prices of Sony PlayStation 3 40GB and 80GB in the USA now are $399 and $499, respectively, European customers have to pay €399 ($630) and €499 ($787) for 40GB and 60GB models, respectively, whereas Japanese gamers can obtain PlayStation 3 40GB for ¥39 980 ($376 or €238).

Microsoft Preps to Unveil DirectX 11 Features in Several Days

Unlike DirectX 9, the DirectX 10 will not have a more than four year lifespan as Microsoft Corp. plans to introduce features of DirectX 11 application programming interface at the forthcoming XNA gamefest conference that takes place next week in Seattle, Washington. Moreover, ATI, graphics product group of AMD, and Nvidia Corp. also plan to discuss certain Direct3D 11 features at upcoming conferences.

Microsoft is going to host four sessions dedicated to Direct3D 11 application programming interface (API), according to agenda of XNA conference. The world’s largest software maker plans to introduce the Direct3D 11 graphics pipeline, unveil details about D3D 11 Tessellation capability, new type of shaders called Compute Shader as well as high level shader language 5.0.

According to Microsoft, Direct3D 11 extends and enhances Direct3D 10 with new hardware and API calls. For example, Direct3D 11 introduces the Compute Shader as a way to access this computational capability without so many constraints. It opens the door to operations on more general data-structures than just arrays, and to new classes of algorithms as well. Key features of compute shader include: communication of data between threads, and a rich set of primitives for random access and streaming I/O operations. These features enable faster and simpler implementations of techniques already in use, such as imaging and post-processing effects, and also open up new techniques that become feasible on Direct3D 11–class hardware.

It is interesting to note that Microsoft did not reveal whether DirectX 11 will support processing of physics on GPUs, though, chief of software developers relations at AMD’s graphics product group implied last year that more generalized approach to programming of Microsoft’s next-gen API will indeed open the doors to physics processing on graphics chips.

ATI and Nvidia will also host sessions dedicated to DirectX 11 hardware tessellation at XNA and Siggraph, which indicates that the feature is going to be one of the key capabilities of forthcoming API and DX11-class graphics processing units. It is interesting to note that ATI’s session about tessellation at XNA will cover both “current architectures and Direct3D 11”, which may mean that even the tessellation engine inside ATI Radeon HD 4800-series is not DX11-compatible.

The DirectX 11 should be compatible with both Windows Vista and Windows 7 since Microsoft officially said that it has no plans to change driver model in its next-generation operating system. Therefore, it is logical to expect the arrival of DirectX 11 both ahead or after the launch of Windows 7, as the releases of the two products do not seem to be aligned.

It is unknown when ATI and Nvidia plan to launch hardware compatible with DirectX 11 application programming interface.

Intel Promises to Ship 100 Million 45nm Microprocessors This Year

Intel Corp. said during the most recent conference call with financial analysts that it is on track to ship 100 million central processing units (CPUs) made using 45nm process technology this year. The world’s largest maker of x86 chips also indicated that the ramp of its 45nm fabrication process is better than that of previous-gen technologies.

“Our 45nm manufacturing process is performing superbly. We remain on track to ship over 100 million [CPU] units before the end of the year on this process technology. At this stage of our process ramp, yields and throughput times are better then at the same time on our 65-nanometer ramp,” said Paul Otellini, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., during a conference call with financial analysts.

One of the indisputable strong points of Intel Corp. is to rapidly transit to new process technologies, which allow to pack more transistor inside microprocessors to increase performance or just reduce the manufacturing costs of existing chips. The successful ramp of 45nm manufacturing process means that Intel effectively lowers its production costs and increases profitability while still being able to reduce prices on its products if the market conditions require that.

Besides, Intel said that the shipments crossover between chips made using 45nm and 65nm fabrication processes will occur sometimes in Q3 2008, which may indicate that the bulk of Intel’s shipments this year will still be made using 65nm manufacturing process.

“We will reach the 45nm shipment crossover point for microprocessors during this, the third quarter,” Mr. Otellini said.

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).

Intel this week announced record second-quarter revenue of $9.5 billion, operating income of $2.3 billion, net income of $1.6 billion and earnings per share (EPS) of 28 cents.

Microsoft Unveils New Xbox 360 Model, Cuts Price on Another

As expected, Microsoft Corp. has released a new version of its Xbox 360 video game console with enlarged hard disk drive and also slashed the price of the previous-generation machine “while supplies last”. It is unclear whether the new version of the console features chips produced using thinner manufacturing technology and whether Microsoft plans another price-cut shortly.

The new model is Xbox 360 Pro 60GB, which officially only sports enlarged hard disk drive, however, based on unofficial information, the novelty may also be based on code-named Jasper design, which utilizes ATI Xenos graphics and memory controller hub (GMCH) made using 65nm process at TSMC as well as IBM Xenon central processing unit (CPU) produced at IBM’s 65nm nodes. The new system design is projected to consume less electricity, use less complex cooling systems and also produce less noise.

“We know consumers need more and more space to store the amazing digital content Xbox 360 offers, and we’re giving it to them at no extra charge. No one device offers the depth and breadth of entertainment that Xbox 360 can deliver, and now you’ll have three times the storage to manage all that great content,” said Albert Penello, Xbox director of product management at Microsoft.

Microsoft did not comment whether the new Xbox 360 Pro 60GB is powered by the new system design.

The Xbox 360 Pro 60GB will cost $349, whereas its predecessor, the Xbox 360 20GB, will cost $299, while supplies last. In addition, Microsoft will continue to sell Xbox 360 Arcade with 256MB flash drive and five arcade games for $279 as well as Xbox 360 Elite with 120GB hard drive for $449.

It is actually unclear whether the model with enlarged hard drive can spur interest towards the Xbox 360 among casual gamers, the category that buys Nintendo Wii, the most successful video game system of the current generation. Hardcore gamers have already acquired Xbox 360 and that market may not be truly large at this time already, therefore, it is crucial for Microsoft to attract different kinds of gamers.

Nvidia to Explore SOI Manufacturing Technology

Nvidia Corp., the world’s largest supplier of graphics processing units, has joined the SOI Industry Consortium. Joining the organization may mean that the fabless developer of semiconductors is looking forward to design chips that will be made using silicon-on-insulator technology.

“Nvidia is pleased to join the SOI consortium. We are looking forward in participating on the advancement of such an innovative technology and its applications to future products,” said John Chen, vice president of technology and foundry operations at Nvidia.

Even though Nvidia is a fabless developer, hence, does not operate its own fabs, it is tremendously interested in rapid development of chip manufacturing technologies and design tools so that to be in position to continue creating leading-edge graphics processing units as well as other chips.

The SOI Industry Consortium, which was formed in October 2007 by a group of companies from across the electronics industry, is aimed at accelerating silicon-on-insulator innovation into broad markets by promoting the benefits of SOI technology and reducing the barriers to adoption.

Nvidia brings the SOI Consortium membership to twenty three companies. Other members include: AMD, Applied Materials, ARM, Cadence Design Systems, CEA-L├ęti, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, Innovative Silicon, KLA-Tencor, Lam Research, Magma Design, Samsung, Semico, Soitec, SEH Europe, STMicroelectronics, Synopsys, TSMC, Tyndall Institute, UCL and UMC.

The SOI Industry Consortium is open to any company, organization or academic institution with an interest in SOI.

Intel to Launch Another Offence with Nehalem Microprocessors Later This Year

In spite of expectation, Intel Corp. plans to launch three micro-processors for desktops based on Nehalem micro-architecture later this year, according to market rumours. Moreover, even the highest-end model will not cost as much as the current flagship of Intel Core 2 Extreme family.

Apparently, the family of code-named Bloomfield processors for desktops to be launched in the fourth quarter this year will include three models priced at $284, $562 and $999, according to a news-story at HKEPC web-site. Even though the entry-level model will hardly appeal to mainstream users, enthusiasts in budget are likely to gladly adopt the new microprocessor as it promises considerably higher performance compared to existing Intel Core 2 processors as well as AMD Phenom X4 offerings.

It should be kept in mind that initially Intel Nehalem-based systems will hardly be affordable: the new chips require a completely new infrastructure: new core-logic sets, new mainboards, new sockets, cooling systems and so on, all of which will be priced at a premium due to business reasons.

It is interesting to note that when Intel launched its Core 2 Duo processor family in 2006, it rolled out a range of chips priced between $183 and $999. The initial desktop Nehalem product family emphasizes that nowadays Intel does not have to fight its market share back from Advanced Micro Devices, but to spread the new technology among enthusiasts as well as workstation users.

Intel did not comment on the news-story.

New Generation ATI Radeon for Mainstream, Mobile Markets are Ready

The release of ATI Radeon HD 4800-series graphics cards by ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, demonstrated that the company is completely capable of releasing advanced graphics processing units on time. Moreover, ATI’s next-generation mainstream graphics chips as well as mobile graphics processors are ready, at least according to PCI-SIG certification.

Based on PCI Express “integrators list”, AMD’s graphics chips code-named RV730, M98-L and M96 are fully compliant with PCI Express 1.1 version of the standard. Inclusion into the list also means that the chips are fully operational and may be rolled out commercially shortly from now.

It is believed that ATI RV730 is the successor of the ATI RV630 and RV635, which have been blamed for low performance right from their launch. The RV730 is projected to offer higher performance compared to the predecessor, which should help AMD’s graphics products group to regain market share from its rival Nvidia Corp.

ATI code-named M98-L and M96 are believed to be mainstream and entry-level discrete graphics processors for mobile computers that should also bring higher performance compared to products available from ATI today.

While it is not completely clear when ATI RV730, which may be sold under ATI Radeon HD 4600-series model number, becomes available, it is highly likely that AMD will try hard to ramp up production of such graphics cards by the time back-to-school season starts. Otherwise, the company will have to sell older-generation ATI Radeon HD 3850 in that period for the price of around $100.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.

EVGA and XFX Reimburse Price Difference on GeForce GTX 200 after Price Collapse

EVGA and XFX, two leading suppliers of Nvidia-based graphics cards, plan to return up to $125 to those, who acquired latest Nvidia GeForce GTX 200-series graphics cards before their prices collapsed. It remains to be seen whether other partners of Nvidia Corp. will also reimburse part of the price difference to their customers.

EVGA will provide $60 and $125 cash back to those who acquired GeForce GTX 260 or 280, respectively, between June 16th and July 7th, provided that the products were bought for full manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) from an authorized reseller. The company may also offer reimbursement in so-called EVGA bucks, the currency used in the company’s online store.

XFX offers its customers up to $120 back to customers who purchased one of these cards between June 16, 2008 and July 11, 2008. The actual amount of cash back will be determined based on the model purchased, as well as the date and price of the purchase.

Presently the offerings are only valid in Canada and the USA; it is not certain that similar reimbursement programs are set to be launched in Asia or Europe as well.

Nvidia released its GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 280 models in mid-June at $399 and $649 price-points, respectively. But days after the launch it was discovered that competing ATI Radeon HD 4850 ($199) and 4870 ($299) graphics cards offer so high performance that they can easily compete against more expensive graphics cards either directly or in pairs. As a result, to sustain or further increase its market share, Nvidia had to decrease pricing of its novelties dramatically, something, which may anger early customers as well as add-in-board partners, distributors and resellers.

It is unknown whether the reimbursement programs are funded by makers of graphics cards or by Nvidia itself.