The Computex show in Taipei has brought announcements from Intel, AMD and Arm, while MCU suppliers are also introducing significant innovations. EDA vendors are making news too, preannouncing some of the highlights of the upcoming DAC. And research efforts make autonomous driving a bit closer.
10th Gen Intel Core processors
Many of the innovations announced by Intel at Computex are targeted at laptops, with main course being the first 10th Gen Intel Core processors featuring Intel Deep Learning Boost. Built on the company’s 10nm process technology, new Sunny Cove core architecture and new Gen11 graphics engine, the 10th Gen Intel Core range will span from i3 to i7, with up to 4 cores and 8 threads, up to 4.1 max turbo frequency and up to 1.1 GHz graphics frequency. The new family targets thin-and-light laptops and ‘2 in 1s’, claiming a sharp performance increase over previous generation on every front: AI workloads, graphics (including 4K HDR), wireless connectivity (more than 1 Gbps with Wi-Fi 6). These SoCs integrate many on-chip functions, including a Gaussian Network Accelerator, Thunderbolt 3 and Wi-Fi 6. Intel also unveiled the 1.0 target specification of its Project Athena, aimed at improving the experience of laptop users. Requirements (called ‘key experience indicators’) include 16 or more hours of battery life in local video playback mode, 9 or more hours of battery life under real-world performance conditions, system wake from sleep in less than 1 second. Announcements include the new Intel Performance Maximizer, an automated overclocking tool for unlocked 9th Gen Intel Core desktop processors “that brings overclocking to the masses”, as stated in a press release.
10th Gen Intel Core processor. Image credit: Intel Corporation
Just a brief mention of recent news that have been thoroughly covered by all types of media – including dinnertime TV newscast. Following Google’s decision to blocks Huawei access to Android updates after blacklisting, the Chinese company has reportedly preannounced its own new operating system for its smartphones. ARM, too, is reportedly “complying with the latest restrictions set forth by the U.S. government”. A totally unrelated fact is adding to this scenario: the court ruling that Qualcomm’s licensing practices relating to its modem chips constitute an unfair method of competition. All these stories are still evolving, but a shakeup in the smartphone-related ecosystem seems to be unavoidable.
New FPGAs target AI applications, firmware security
Though not popular enough for prime time, FPGAs are also making news with innovations from Achronix and Lattice. Achronix has introduced the Speedster7t FPGA family, based on a new architecture optimized for artificial intelligence/machine learning and data acceleration applications. At the heart of Speedster7t FPGAs are a massively parallel array of programmable compute elements within the new machine learning processors (MLPs). The MLPs support integer formats from 4 to 24 bits and floating-point modes including direct support for TensorFlow's 16-bit format. Tightly coupled with embedded memory blocks, the MLPs are fed with data at 750 MHz. The Speedster7t architecture includes a two-dimensional network-on-chip that spans horizontally and vertically over the FPGA fabric. Each row or column in the NoC is implemented as two 256-bit, unidirectional AXI channels operating at 2 GHz, delivering 512 Gbps of data traffic in each direction simultaneously. Other features include up to 72 SerDes that can operate from 1 to 112 Gbps, 400G Ethernet ports, PCI Express Gen5 controllers, and GDDR6 interfaces. Manufactured on TSMC's 7nm FinFET process, Speedster7t devices range from 363K to 2.6M 6-input LUTs and offer a conversion path to ASIC.
The architecture of the new Achronix FPGAs. Image credit: Achronix
Three nanoelectronics powerhouses shared their roadmaps and future views at their respective events: Intel Investor Meeting (May 8 in Santa Clara), Samsung Foundry Forum (May 14 in Santa Clara), and Imec Technology Forum (May 14 in Antwerp, Belgium). Many more news this week concern several different areas, as described below; among them, the release of a new report from IC Insights, showing that in 2018 Texas Instruments maintained its place as the world’s leading supplier of analog chips.
Developers conferences from three of the major global IT heavyweights took place in a mere ten-day timeframe: Facebook “F8” from April 30th to May 1st in San Jose; “Microsoft Build” from May 6th to May 8th in Seattle; and “Google I/O” from May 7th to May 9th in Mountain View. Each of these events brought a plethora of announcements, and – as distant as they may seem from chip design and manufacturing – some of them will inevitably have an impact well beyond the developers’ communities of these three companies.
Early May announcements overload
Just a brief, non-exhaustive summary. Pledging to “a privacy-focused social platform”, Facebook introduced many new functions across all its apps and products, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and AR/VR. The Facebook app itself will get a new design, new group-oriented features, and a match-making function called Secret Crush aimed at exploring relationship opportunities within a circle of friends – without risking an embarrassing moment: the two persons will be notified only if both express interest for each other. WhatsApp news include the possibility for people to see a business catalog right within the app when chatting with a business; Instagram users will be able to simply tap on their smartphone screen to know exactly what ‘creators’ are wearing and buy the same outfit on the spot; “Portal from Facebook” and Portal+ will expand in Europe this fall; and Facebook’s two newest virtual reality headsets — Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S — will start shipping May 21.
First quarter results confirm the expectation of “headwinds” expressed by SEMI at a recent event. Second quarter now starts with many hot topics and promising innovations – from design to manufacturing.
Wafer and chip sales down in Q1 2019
According to the SEMI Silicon Manufacturers Group, worldwide silicon wafer area shipments dropped 5.6 percent during the first quarter of 2019 compared to the fourth quarter of 2018 and are now at their lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2017. A bigger downturn has been reported by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA): worldwide sales of semiconductors totalled $96.8 billion during the first quarter of 2019, a decrease of 15.5 percent over the previous quarter and 13 percent less than the first quarter of 2018. Global sales for the month of March 2019 were $32.3 billion, a dip of 1.8 percent compared to the previous month's total and 13 percent less than sales from March 2018.