Insights From Leading Edge



IFTLE 123: Intel’s Bohr on 3DIC; Samsung DDR4 roadmap; Amazon to buy TI mobile chip unit? ; Communication will soon be king

Insight into Intel and 3DIC

For those of you that haven’t read Ed Sperling’s recent interview with Intel’s CTO Mark Bohr in Semi Manuf and Design, it contains some interesting comments on the 3D area [link]:

SMD: Where do stacked die fit into your roadmap?

Bohr: 3D stacked die have advantages, but only for certain market segments. You have to be very clear about what problem and what market segment you are trying to serve.

For a small handheld application where a small footprint and form factor are key and power levels are low, it probably makes good sense to use 3D stacking. For desktop, laptop and server applications where form factor isn’t as valuable and power levels are higher, 3D stacking has some problems that make it not an ideal solution.

And his thoughts on interconnect…

SMD: Is the interconnect [on chip] becoming more problematic?
Bohr: If you talk to a designer 10 years ago you would have heard the same thing. Maybe now they’re saying, ‘This time we’re really serious.’

SMD: How about new interconnect technology?
Bohr: It’s hard to replace copper and low-k other than by making lower k. But at least in the low-power cell phone market, stacking chips does help to minimize some of the interconnect issues, particularly between the logic and the memory chips.

SMD: You’re referring to through-silicon vias?
Bohr: Yes.

SMD: So if Intel is planning to get into that market, the company is experimenting with that technology right now?
Bohr: Yes, and we’ve been public about exploring TSV and 3D technology for a couple years. Although there are some challenging technology aspects, the real issue is cost. Doing TSVs and stacking chips — especially these custom Wide I/O chips — is expensive. So this might be a better engineering solution in terms of density, performance and power, but will the market bear the added cost? Not all markets will bear the higher cost.

Intel to use DDR4 with TSV starting in 2014?

Despite these comments, IFTLE would be remiss if we didn’t point out that rumors continue to swirl that Intel will use 3D stacked DDR4 memory in their Haswell-EX platform for enterprise computing [link].

Since Haswell will feature microprocessors with 12-14 cores, it will benefit from lower memory power consumption, higher memory bandwidth, and the memory capacity that DDR3 simply cannot provide. DRAM makers will make high-capacity DDR4 chips using through-silicon-via (TSV) technology that will allow to increase capacity of memory chips at a very fast rate. For servers, special switches will be introduced to avoid one module/one channel limitation.

Samsung DDR4

Indeed, Samsung demonstrated its next-generation DDR4 chips and memory modules at the Intel Developer Forum. Samsung showed a 300mm wafer of DDR4 die processed using 30 nm technology, insinuating that it could start production of DDR4 anytime the infrastructure became ready. Samsung plans to take DDR4 module speed for 2014 servers [like Haswell-EX?] to 2.666 GHz. Eventually, Samsung and Intel intend to boost the effective clock-speeds of DDR4 server memory modules to rather whopping 3.20GHz.

It is reported that in DDR4 memory sub-systems every memory channel will support only one memory module. To enable the highest-possible memory capacities, DRAM makers will use TSV stacking to make high-capacity DDR4 chips. Special switches will be used in server modules to avoid this module/one channel limitation.

Amazon in talks to buy TI’s mobile chip business?

Last month Texas Instruments announced plans to shift its focus away from its mobile processor business (~ $650M sales) and target broader markets such as industrial clients in the car industry, and Wall Street has speculated it could be sold.

Now, according to a report from Israeli newspaper Calcalist, Amazon is said to be in "advanced negotiations" to acquire this business from TI. This would be a step towards vertical integration for production of its Kindle tablets and could indicate an interest in entering the smartphones business. TI’s processors are used in Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon CEO Bezos reportedly touted TI’s industry strength at their new tablets recent launch. Speculation has existed for more than a year that Amazon could sell its own smartphone but Bezos has not addressed those rumors. The 1.0 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments 4430 OMAP application processor runs the Kindle Fire [link].

Reuters reports that Amazon declined to comment on the report. TI said it does not comment on rumors but said in an email to Reuters: "The smartphone market has become a less attractive long-term opportunity for TI … and we are re-profiling our investment accordingly."

If this sounds strange, why is it that different than Microsoft with its traditional business model of licensing operating systems to PC manufacturers, who will this month will launch the "Surface tablet," which it designed itself?

Communications to surpass computers as leading application for ICs

Our friends at IC Insights in their study, "IC market drivers 2013: A study of emerging and major end-use applications fueling demand for integrated circuits," forecasts communications applications to pass computer applications as the leading end-use for ICs starting in 2014 and lasting through at least 2016. The IC communications market is forecast to grow 9.2% in 2012 to $90.0 billion from $82.4 billion in 2011, and increase 11.7% to $100.5 billion in 2013, breaking the $100-billion level for the first time. The total communications IC market is forecast to reach $114.4 billion in 2014, 4.6% more than the $109.4 billion computer IC market. From 2011 to 2016, the communications IC market is forecast to grow by a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.1%, reaching $159.5 billion at the end of the forecast period. The communications segment accounted for 31.2% of worldwide IC sales in 2011 and the computer end-use segment 41.7%. By 2016, these two segments will flip-flop, with communications forecast to represent 42.2% of the total IC market, compared to 34.0% for the computer segment.

For all the latest on 3DIC and advanced packaging, stay linked to IFTLE…………

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