iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






The latest trends and technologies digest


By Vladimir Romanchenko (lone@ixbt.com)

All of you remember the alarming news of early and mid-2003: war in Iraq, SARS, cancelled business trips, exhibitions, and contracts. A feeling of chaos in the economics hit the semiconductor industry as well and it seemed the long-anticipated upturn was delayed again.

In the end it was all right, without excesses. Of course, the first half-year finished with some worse results than expected, however already in Q3, most results of which were published in October, indicated that by the year-end we should hope for stabilization and even the significant upturn in some markets.


This "restless" year isn't ended, but researchers have started publishing their forecasts already. Most of them are kept up in the very optimistic manner. Of course, such conclusions are based on financial results of Q3 2003, in which most market players report about returning to the profitability and some promise to do this in Q4.

IC Insights believes that in general the worldwide semiconductor market is to grow by 14% by the year-end. It's interesting that, according to provisional information, three European companies at once are to enter the Top 10 largest semiconductor vendors. The reason is not related to the shipments volumes growth, but only to the 19% growth of the euro in relation to the dollar.

Intel remains the Top 10 leader with expected $27 billion sales (vs. $24 billion of the last year). Samsung occupies the 2nd place, while Renesas (Hitachi and Mitsubishi joint venture) has the 3rd.

On the 4th and 5th places there are Texas Instruments and Toshiba, respectively, with sales grown by 23% in 2003. STMicroelectronics is on the 6th place with its 12% sales growth. Due to DRAM prices and euro rate growth Infineon achieved the highest sales increase - 28%, however the company is still only the 7th worldwide.

On the 8th place is NEC with $6.2 billion sales. With the second sales increase and $5.9 billion sales TSMC is on the 9th. On the 10th there's Philips with $5.6 billion and 28% sales increase. Finally, Motorola that was on the 9th place in 2002 is likely to drop out of the Top 10 in 2003.

Gartner published interesting data on server sales for Q3. Comparing to the last year we can see the clear growth of 21%. In Q3 server sales made 1.37 million worldwide. Besides, it's the third quarter in a row indicating 10% growth comparing to the similar quarters of the last year.

Analysts mark that the success of HP strongly depends on the fact that the company is the largest vendor of Intel-based servers. By the way, analysts state that recently sales of Intel-based 8-way systems have grown considerably.

The success of Dell is related to company's clear focus on the small server market. As for the not impressive results of Sun, Forrester researchers believe that customers decided to wait until early 2004, when the company would announce its new UltraSparc IV. Besides, Sun is the only UNIX servers vendor controlling most of the 1-8-way solutions in this segment. Therefore the company suffered most, when 1-8-way systems on Windows and Linux begain their expansion.

Another analyst, IDC, marked the possible increase of IBM's server market share related to the same unsuccessful business of Sun. Describing the market prospects, analysts forecasted server sales growth for at least 2 more quarters.

Another Autumn tradition is the wave of merge and joint venture announcements. In October Konica and Minolta merged finally, having started this on August 5. The new company was registered in Great Britain as Konica Minolta Photo Imaging. It will focus on the development of innovations and technologies in the fields of digital photography, cameras, medical and other systems. We should expect a number of products under the Konica Minolta trademark already in the end of this year.

Another important event: Sony and Samsung generally negotiated to create a 7th-generation LCD joint venture early in 2004.

This fab is to be located in Korea. It will mostly produced LCD panels for televisions. To the end of 2004, when the volume production is established, Sony and Samsung plan the yield of 50,000 panels of the 7th generation (1900x2200mm) monthly.

And some more interesting analytic materials reflecting the real trends of computer industry. According to the calculations, based on data from Taiwanese makers, the shipments of 15" notebooks might make a half of all the portable PC market already this quarter.

The shipments of 15" notebooks started to grow immediately after the price difference between 14.1" and 15" had been reduced. Now this difference makes about $10-15 and might even make $10 next year. Due to this, 15" notebook shipment volumes surpassed the shipments of 14.1" models already in Q2 2003.

Another factor that increased the demand for 15" notebooks, was the growth of their population as the consumer goods (opposed by the corporate market). Therefore the sales ratio of 14.1" and 15" notebooks was forecasted 2:8 in the consumer market.

Mercury Research published the PC graphics data for Q3 2003. Of course, the highest ratings belong to ATI, Intel, and NVIDIA. The leader is actually Intel due to the volumes of shipped integrated graphics. About 55% GPUs for both mobile and desktop systems, are integrated. NVIDIA still leads with its discrete GPU sales, while ATI dominates in the mobile graphics market.


The two favourite themes of both analysts, and newspeople are related to the semiconductor production. These are naturally the aspects of 90nm process implementation and plans for the next 2-3 years that should bring us 65nm processes already.

Today it's hard to find a chip maker without a 90nm process roadmap. But even if some companies have time to report about such volume production in 2003, this year will still be generally marked by the 0.13µm process implementation.

This year brought enough messages about the 90nm silicon samples alongside some exotics like Toshiba's release of the first functional 90nm wafers with the X Architecture.

The idea of X Initiative, for which a SIG was created in the Summer of 2001, is to create special blocks (tiles) with diagonal connections created by the "liquid routing" technology to provide effective diagonal routing inside a block. Then tiles are joined using usual orthogonal connections. The tile concept itself was developed by ArTile, Toshiba's daughter compan, in 2001. Today the industry usually utilizes the "Manhattan" rectangular layouts.

Toshiba's experimental chips with 5-layer metallization were produced at the proprietary experimental 90nm fab using standard equipment and materials. They especially underline that comparing to the usual "Manhattan" technology X Architecture reduces connections length by 14%.

Meanwhile, already now the litho makers claim they are ready to ship the new litho tools for 65nm. In October ASML finished the developments of its new Twinscan XT:1250 litho plant scheduled for shipping to April 2004.

Twinscan XT:1250 utilizes the 193nm light source and is in general similar to the previous Twinscan AT:1200, however it feature improved optics and software. Twinscan AT:1200 is capable to create >80nm geometrical products on 300mm wafers. XT:1250 already supports 70nm sizes on 200mm and 300mm wafers. The wafer processing performance is about 114 wafers per hour. The plant will cost about $20 million.

In October they adopted a number of industry-important standards. Canon, Sharp, Sony, and Victor Company of Japan (JVC) together with Adobe, Canopus, KDDI R&D Laboratories, Sony Pictures Digital Networks and Ulead Systems adopted the final specs of HDV format utilizing DV and mini-DV cassettes.

The standard features 1280x720 or 1440x1080 resolution, 720/60p and 720/30p video signals, 16:9 aspect ratio, MPEG2 compression, 4:2:0 fetch structure, 8 quantization bits, 19Mbps or 25Mbps compressed video bitrate, 16bit/48kHz MPEG1 Audio Layer II at 384Kbps, and IEEE1394 (MPEG2-TS) interface.

Meanwhile, we got to know that 216 DVD Forum members were planning to start working on Enhanced DVD that should be backward compatible with the existing DVD, especially in relation to the media capacities. The new format should support Web connections, high-speed content recording, URL storage and digital keys storage.

Enhanced DVD should provide up to 2 hours of analog video per disk. This standard is actually required as an intermediate between the existing and the expensive blue laser systems.

The devices supporting the new standard should arrive in 2004. With their help users will be able to watch DVD movies and at the same time request additional movie data from the Internet to output to the same monitor.

As for the wireless field, in October IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) announed the forming of mmWIG workgroup that is to work with practical applications of 60GHz frequency range to create Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN).

The advantages of 60GHz frequency range that is 7GHz wide is the minimal interference with other electronic devices. Besides, the high level of signal attenuation coupled with the default small operation radius of about 10m will enable to install a large number of WPAN clients in a single building without interference.

Therefore the IEEE 802.15.3 Millimeter Wave Interest Group (mmWIG) will first develop the physical level specs for millimeter-range WPAN networks. So I guess we'll get to know more details about the IEEE 802.15.3 standard.



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