Thursday, January 28, 2010

Steve Jobs, Chip Wizard

This week saw a big day in the world of Technology, with Apple announcing the incredibly hyped iPad tablet. The Mercury News and The Wall Street Journal, among many others, each devoted a few pages to coverage.

As good tech consumers, we all have our opinions about the features, price point, and odds of it changing the world. Steve Jobs called it "magical". (Fake Steve says he uses neuro-linguistic programming.)

But I digress. What's the significance for chip-design engineers? Though we won't have the details from a full teardown for another couple of months, Apple did announce that they've designed the central chip in the iPad, dubbing it the "A4". Early coverage of A4 includes

It's intriguing that Apple has consciously decided to build an advanced chip design organization, since they are a consumer electronics company. There are comparable alternatives for single-chip mobile device computers, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon and NVIDIA Tegra. What's Apple's angle in doing it themselves? Is it just their obsessive need for secrecy? Or will they somehow integrate differentiating functions that justify the large investment and risk of running a chip design operation? It flies against the industry trend (which PC manufacturer designs its own chips?), but let's see how this plays out. I'm not foolish enough to dismiss Steve Jobs' ability to Think Different.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Anticipating the (40nm) Deluge

Image courtesy Wikimedia.

A short but encouraging news article at X-bit labs, TSMC’s Problems with 40nm Process Technology Largely Over, reports that TSMC has solved its widely-rumored yield problems with its leading-edge 40nm process. Hallelujah! This would be great news for TSMC, their customers, their customers' customers, ...

An interesting side note is the claim that at present only ATI, graphics business unit of Advanced Micro Devices, Altera and NVIDIA Corp. use TSMC 40nm process technology. Really, only three production users of 40nm? Apparently the design pipeline is getting stretched out over many generations, including 65nm on up to 130nm. Ah, I miss the good old days of 130nm design.

(Tip o' the hat to Daniel Nenni for the "tweet" tip.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

College Degrees and Career Salaries

Interesting college/career data to share with your kids (or young people who might actually listen to your advice).
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.
Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Glass is Half ...

Saw a couple of interesting blog posts/articles recently. Daniel Nenni's data-rich 2010 Semiconductor Forecast made me feel quite bullish about the near-term prospects for our industry. Update: EE Times' Top 25 predictions for semis in 2010 are specific and considerably more dour than Mr. Nenni's forecast.

The other is ominous for the long-term: Is Moore's Law near its end? - Now Hear This! - Blog on EDN. But really, running out of steam in less than five years? Be sure to read the comment stream, as there are some good additions there.

My perspective is that a near-term uptick is certainly overdue. By all indications, the US economy is starting to recover, and with it, consumer spending on electronics will get a nice boost. There's certainly a lot of innovation being shown at the Consumer Electronics Show this week.

As for Moore's Law, I think it keeps working as long as we're using planar CMOS. If we have to transition to fundamentally different materials, or 3D structures, all bets are off.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mordac is alive and well ...

Apparently Dilbert's "Preventer of Information Services" has taken Core Concepts of Information Systems Security, X52.9380 and is thriving at Synopsys.

Can you tell I had to reset my SolvNet password today? Does Synopsys really hate customers this much? My feelings haven't changed since I last changed my password.