Heads up, Intel: TSMC cranks up ARM chip to 3GHz

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company has ripped a page right out of the Intel playbook.

TSMC announced today that a chip rolling off its advanced 28-nanometer manufacturing process was jacked up to 3.1GHz -- unheard of in the annals of ARM-based mobile system reviews.

Intel, of course, is not a stranger to fast frequencies. Its high-performance Core i desktop processors run well more than 3GHz, and even its higher-end mobile parts are rated close to 3GHz.

But that's unfamiliar territory for ARM, which is known more for power efficiency than raw power.

More specifically, the TSMC chip is a … Read more

Apple has big lead over Intel in mobile chips, analyst says

A chip analyst has written a sobering assessment of Intel's chip prowess vis-a-vis Apple in the mobile device race, an odd underdog position for the largest chipmaker.

In the brave new world of tablets and smartphones, chip competition isn't so much about Moore's Law but rather how the "blocks" of circuits are put together and the nexus with the software that runs on those circuits, Gus Richard, a senior research analyst at securities firm Piper Jaffray, wrote in a research note this week.

More specifically, tablets and smartphones use silicon called system-on-a-chip, or SoC, that … Read more

Apple using Samsung for next iPhone despite patent battles

Apple and Samsung may be battling each other in the courts over patent claims but the two companies are reportedly still working with each other on the technology for the next iPhone.

Samsung will supply the A6 processor slated to appear in the iPhone 5, or whatever Apple dubs its next phone, says The Korea Times. Citing industry sources, the publication reports that Samsung has boosted the production of Apple-designed A6 chips at its plant in Austin, Texas.

"Apple has been in talks with Samsung over shipment of its A6 quad-core mobile processor (AP) chips to be used in … Read more

IBM, Intel group to invest $4.4 billion in chip tech

A group of semiconductor heavyweights led by Intel, IBM, and Globalfoundries will invest $4.4 billion in a New York-based chip R&D hub, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said today.

The five-year investment will target upstate New York, which is already a major center of chip research and development activity tied to IBM and Globalfoundries. The latter--Advanced Micro Devices' erstwhile chipmaking arm now owned by Abu Dhabi-based ATIC--is in the process of completing a massive manufacturing complex to make 28-nanometer chips in the town of Malta, NY. IBM has had manufacturing and R&D facilities … Read more

Inside the iPhone 5

With anticipation for Apple's iPhone 5 (or whatever branding is ultimately used) extremely high, most of the focus has been, not surprisingly, on design and timing. But what will make the iPhone 5 tick? That's the question I asked a couple of experts.

The upcoming phone is expected to pack Apple's latest and greatest A5 silicon, a Qualcomm 3G chip, and circuits that support a higher-resolution camera.

A5 chip: The Apple A5 houses the main processor--or so-called application processor--that will power the phone. The A5 (technically a system-on-a-chip or SoC) is the same chip that currently powers the iPad 2. The A5 distinguishes itself from the older A4, used in the iPhone 4, by having two processor cores (the A4 has one) and faster graphics circuits. Two cores allow the device--like the iPad 2--to multitask better than a single-core phone.

"It's liable to be the A5," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, a company that tracks the phone chip market. But Strauss expects the chip to be a variation of the A5 in the iPad 2. "It's a geometric shrink of the A5. The geometries (size of the chip) will be smaller," he said. … Read more

Apple's A6 chip in pilot production

Apple has consigned trial production of its future A6 processor to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and not Samsung, its traditional manufacturing partner, according to a Reuters report.

The A6 processor is still a distant destination on Apple's chip road map. It isn't expected to appear in products until 2012, and analysts believe it will be quad-core, a first for an Apple A series chip. The A5, used in the iPad 2, is a dual-core processor.

Talk of Apple jumping to Taipei-based TSMC has been driven, in part, by the legal skirmishes between Apple and Samsung. The latter has been Apple's sole manufacturing source for A4 and A5 processors. … Read more

As Apple seeks new chip suppliers, theories abound

With Apple seeking to lessen its dependency on Samsung as a processor supplier, a number of chip-supplier scenarios are emerging for Apple's next generation of devices.

Amid serious legal squabbling with Samsung, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is likely to be the first to capture Apple's new business. But Intel, which already makes all of Apple's desktop and laptop processors, is also in the running for other devices.

TSMC scenario: TSMC may first appear, in the fourth quarter, as a second-source supplier of the A5 processor, according to Gus Richard, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, who wrote … Read more

AMD spinoff lands top chip company as customer

Globalfoundries, the manufacturing concern spun off from Advanced Micro Devices, plans to announce Wednesday that it has signed up STMicroelectronics--its first true outside customer.

Globalfoundries was created last year in order to eliminate the crippling overhead that AMD was incurring to manufacture its processors. Globalfoundries now conducts business as a contract chip manufacturer, commonly referred to as a foundry.

AMD owns 34.2 percent of the company, while Advanced Technology Investment Co. owns the rest. ATIC is an investment company wholly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, Globalfoundries broke … Read more

AMD spinoff seeks to rival chipmaking giants

Advanced Micro Devices' spinoff Globalfoundries will use a groundbreaking ceremony this Friday to proclaim that it's ready to go head to head with the world's largest chipmakers.

Globalfoundries, formerly the chip manufacturing operations of AMD, will break ground next week in Malta, N.Y., on a $4.2 billion facility that may put it among the elite chipmakers of the world. But to get there, it needs big customers. One--or more--of those names will be announced in the next 30 days, according to Jon Carvill, director of corporate communications at Globalfoundries.

Early customers may include companies that design … Read more

GPUs and the new 'digital divide'

I spent Tuesday at Nvidia headquarters, attending the company's annual Analyst Day.

I've been to most of Nvidia's analyst events over the last decade or so, since I covered Nvidia almost from its inception while working as the graphics analyst at Microprocessor Report. These meetings are always a good way to get an update on the company's business operations, and sometimes--like this time--one provides exceptionally good insight into larger industry trends.

Nvidia has had a rough couple of quarters in the market, which CEO Jen-Hsun Huang blamed in part on a bad strategic call in early 2008: to place orders for large quantities of new chips to be delivered later in the year. When the recession hit, these orders turned into about six months of inventory, much of which simply couldn't be sold at the usual markup.

In response, Nvidia CFO David White outlined measures the company plans to take to increase revenue, sell a more valuable mix of products, reduce the cost of goods sold, and cut back on Nvidia's operating expenses.

Three things stood out for me in this presentation:

Nvidia is planning an aggressive transition to state-of-the-art ASIC fabrication technology at TSMC, the company's manufacturing partner. Within "two to three quarters," White said, about two-thirds of the chips Nvidia sells will be made using 40-nanometer process technology. (The first of these chips were announced Tuesday.)

White also acknowledged something that I've long assumed to be true: Nvidia receives "preferential allocation" on advanced process technology at TSMC. It's logical that Nvidia should get the red-carpet treatment, having been TSMC's best customer for many years, but I don't recall hearing Nvidia or TSMC put this fact on the record before.

The third notable point from White's presentation: the gross margins for Nvidia's Tegra, an ARM-based application processor--which Nvidia's Mike Rayfield, general manager of the Tegra division, says has already garnered 42 design wins at 27 companies--are much higher than I'd have guessed--at "over 45 percent." That's quite excellent for an ARM-based SoC; it's a very competitive market.

More surprises The technical sessions at the event contained their own surprises.

For example, Nvidia effectively seized control of an old Intel marketing buzzword: "balanced."

For years, Intel used to talk about… Read more