ARM Goes 4K With Mali

February 5, 2016 by  
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ARM has announced a new mobile graphics chip, the Mali-DP650 which it said was designed to handle 4K content a device’s screen and on an external display.

The new Mali GPU can push enough pixels on the local display it is more likely that it is interested in using the technology for streaming.

Many smartphones can record 4K video and this means that smartphones could be a home to high resolution content which can be streamed to a large, high resolution screen.

It looks like Mali DP650can juggle the device’s native resolution and the external display’s own resolution and the variable refresh rates. At least that is what ARM says it can do.

The GPU is naturally able to handle different resolutions but it is optimized for a “2.5K”, which means WQXGA (2560×1600) on tablets and WQHD (2560×1440) on smartphones, but also Full HD (1920×1080) for slightly lower end devices.

Mark Dickinson, general manager, media processing group, ARM said: “The Mali-DP650 display processor will enable mobile screens with multiple composition layers, for graphics and video, at Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) resolutions and beyond while maintaining excellent picture quality and extending battery life,”

“Smartphones and tablets are increasingly becoming content passports, allowing people to securely download content once and carry it to view on whichever screen is most suitable. The ability to stream the best quality content from a mobile device to any screen is an important capability ARM Mali display technology delivers.”

ARM did not say when the Mali-DP650 will be in the shops or which chips will be the first to incorporate its split-display mode feature.


Samsung And TSMC Battle It Out

February 4, 2016 by  
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Samsung and TSMC are starting to slug it out introducing Gen.3 14 and 16-nano FinFET system semiconductor processes, but the cost could mean that smartphone makers shy away from the technology in the short term.

It is starting to look sales teams for the pair are each trying to show that they can use the technology to reduce the most electricity consumption and production costs.

In its yearly result for 2015, TSMC made an announcement that it is planning to enter mass-production system of chips produced by 16-nano FinFET Compact (FFC) process sometime during 1st quarter of this year. TSMC had finished developing 16-nano FFC process at the end of last year. During the announcement TSMC talked up the fact that its 16-nano FFC process focuses on reducing production cost more than before and implementing low electricity.

TSMC is apparently ready for mass-production of 16-nano FFC process sometime during 1st half of this year and secured Huawei’s affiliate called HiSilicon as its first customer.

HiSilicon’s Kirin 950 that is used for Huawei’s premium Smartphone called Mate 8 is produced by TSMC’s 16-nano FF process. Its A9 Chip, which is used for Apple’s iPhone 6S series, is mass-produced using the 16-nano FinFET Plus (FF+) process that was announced in early 2015. By adding FFC process, TSMC now has three 16-nano processors in action.

Samsung is not far behind it has mass-produced Gen.2 14-nano FinFET using a process called LPP (Low Power Plus). This has 15 per cent lower electricity consumption compared to Gen.1 14-nano process called LPE (Low Power Early).

Samsung Electronics’ 14-nano LPP process was seen in the Exynos 8 OCTA series that is used for Galaxy S7 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820. But Samsung Electronics is also preparing for Gen.3 14-nano FinFET process.

Vice-President Bae Young-chang of Samsung’s LSI Business Department’s Strategy Marketing Team said it will use a process similar to the Gen.2 14-nano process.

Both Samsung and TSMC might have a few problems. It is not clear what the yields of these processes are and this might increase the production costs.

Even if Samsung Electronics and TSMC finish developing 10-nano process at the end of this year and enter mass-production system next year, but they will also have to upgrade their current 14 and 16-nano processes to make them more economic.

Even if 10-nano process is commercialized, there still will be many fabless businesses that will use 14 and 16-nano processes because they are cheaper. While we might see a few flagship phones using the higher priced chips, it might be that we will not see 10nm in the majority of phones for years.



Samsung Goes 4GB HBM

February 2, 2016 by  
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Samsung has begun mass producing what it calls the industry’s first 4GB DRAM package based on the second-generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) 2 interface.

Samsung’s new HBM solution will be used in high-performance computing (HPC), advanced graphics, network systems and enterprise servers, and is said to offer DRAM performance that is “seven times faster than the current DRAM performance limit”.

This will apparently allow faster responsiveness for high-end computing tasks including parallel computing, graphics rendering and machine learning.

“By mass producing next-generation HBM2 DRAM, we can contribute much more to the rapid adoption of next-generation HPC systems by global IT companies,” said Samsung Electronics’ SVP of memory marketing, Sewon Chun.

“Also, in using our 3D memory technology here, we can more proactively cope with the multifaceted needs of global IT, while at the same time strengthening the foundation for future growth of the DRAM market.”

The 4GB HBM2 DRAM, which uses Samsung’s 20nm process technology and advanced HBM chip design, is specifically aimed at next-generation HPC systems and graphics cards.

“The 4GB HBM2 package is created by stacking a buffer die at the bottom and four 8Gb core dies on top. These are then vertically interconnected by TSV holes and microbumps,” explained Samsung.

“A single 8Gb HBM2 die contains over 5,000 TSV holes, which is more than 36 times that of an 8Gb TSV DDR4 die, offering a dramatic improvement in data transmission performance compared to typical wire-bonding based packages.”

Samsung’s new DRAM package features 256GBps of bandwidth, which is double that of an HBM1 DRAM package. This is equivalent to a more than seven-fold increase over the 36GBps bandwidth of a 4Gb GDDR5 DRAM chip, which has the fastest data speed per pin (9Gbps) among currently manufactured DRAM chips.

The firm’s 4GB HBM2 also enables enhanced power efficiency by doubling the bandwidth per watt over a 4Gb GDDR5-based solution, and embeds error-correcting code functionality to offer high reliability.

Samsung plans to produce an 8GB HBM2 DRAM package this year, and by integrating this into graphics cards the firm believes designers will be able to save more than 95 percent of space compared with using GDDR5 DRAM. This, Samsung said, will “offer more optimal solutions for compact devices that require high-level graphics computing capabilities”.

Samsung will increase production volume of its HBM2 DRAM over the course of the year to meet anticipated growth in market demand for network systems and servers. The firm will also expand its line-up of HBM2 DRAM solutions in a bid to “stay ahead in the high-performance computing market”.


Kingston Creates Self-Destructing USB Device 

January 22, 2016 by  
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Kingston has taken the covers off its 2016 range at CES in Las Vegas and the most notable device on the list is the ‘self-destructing’ latest DataTraveler 2000 USB hard drive.

What makes it interesting is that it has a built-in keypad that allows it to be PIN protected when inserted into any device and can be set to ‘self-destruct’ after 10 incorrect log-in attempts. Better still, it comes with an aluminium cover to prevent the self-destruct accidentally being triggered in your bag.

Compatible with USB up to 3.1, it offers speeds of up to 135MBps read and 40MBps write. It is also designed to be OS independent, and includes up to 256-bit AES protection without any drivers on the host device.

“We are excited to add DataTraveler 2000 to our existing line-up of fast and encrypted USB flash drives for organisations and SMBs,” said Valentina Vitolo, flash business manager at Kingston. “It is the perfect option to deploy in the workforce where a uniform encrypted data storage solution that works on many different operating systems is in use.”

The device will be available later in the quarter. Prices are to be announced, but capacities will range from 16GB to 64GB.

Next up is the KC400, the latest addition to the SSDNow range powered by an eight-channel Phison controller and quad-core internal processor. It will be available is capacities from 128GB to 1TB with speeds of 550/540MBps read/write on the 256GB drive.

The MobileLite range of WiFi-enabled SD card readers has been expanded with the addition of the Wireless G3 and Wireless Pro. The G3 offers a 5600mAh onboard battery to charge mobile devices via the mobile app, and makes it even easier to transfer to and from mobile devices.

Both offer wireless 802.11ac connectivity, while the Pro edition adds an extra little something in the form of a 64GB flash storage option. Both have USB 3.0 and SD card slots, with an adapter for microSD. There’s also an Ethernet port so you can use it as a hotel room hotspot.

Last up, following on from the success of the HyperX CloudII headset, Kingston has released a special edition for Xbox One users which has garnered the moniker of ‘official’. It adds an inline volume control and comes in a hard-shell case.

This year’s offerings are less focused on the traditional Kingston flash product lines, and once again don’t increase capacities.



AMD Goes Polaris

January 19, 2016 by  
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AMD has shown off its upcoming next-generation Polaris GPU architecture at CES 2016 in Las Vegas.

Based on the firm’s fourth generation Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture and built using a 14nm FinFET fabrication process, the upcoming architecture is a big jump from the current 28nm process.

AMD said that it expects shipments of Polaris GPUs to begin in mid-2016, offering improvements such as HDR monitor support and better performance-per-watt.

The much smaller 14nm FinFET process means that Polaris will deliver “a remarkable generational jump in power efficiency”, according to AMD, offering fluid frame rates in graphics, gaming, virtual reality and multimedia applications running on small form-factor thin and light computer designs.

“Our new Polaris architecture showcases significant advances in performance, power efficiency and features,” said AMD president and CEO Lisa Su. “2016 will be a very exciting year for Radeon fans driven by our Polaris architecture, Radeon Software Crimson Edition and a host of other innovations in the pipeline from our Radeon Technologies Group.”

The Polaris architecture features AMD’s fourth-generation GCN architecture, a next-generation display engine with support for HDMI 2.0a and DisplayPort 1.3, and next-generation multimedia features including 4K h.265 encoding and decoding.

GCN enables gamers to experience high-performance video games with Mantle, a tool for alleviating CPU bottlenecks such as API overhead and inefficient multi-threading. Mantle, which is basically AMD’s answer to Microsoft’s Direct X, enables improvements in graphics processing performance. In the past, AMD has claimed that Kaveri teamed with Mantle to enable it to offer built-in Radeon dual graphics to provide performance boosts ranging from 49 percent to 108 percent.

The new GPUs are being sampled to OEMs at the moment and we can expect them to appear in products by mid-2016, AMD said. Once they are in the market, we can expect to see much thinner form factors in devices thanks to the much smaller 14nm chip process.


Apple Buys Parts of Qualcomm

December 31, 2015 by  
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Apple has bought one of Qualcomm’s Taiwan graphics labs and is operating it pretty much under everyone’s radar to “invent” something that Qualcomm tried and failed to make successful.

The lab was used by Qualcomm to develop Interferometric Modulator Display and Apple Insider claims it is now being used to develop thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient screens.

The lab employs at least 50 engineers and has recruited talent from display maker AU Optronics and Qualcomm. Outside the lab there is no signage or much to indicate that the Fruity Cargo Cult has assumed control.

Government records show that the building is registered to Apple Taiwan, and a staff in the building were observed wearing Apple ID badges.

Bloomberg thinks Apple wants to “reduce reliance on the technology developed by suppliers such as Samsung, LG, Sharp and Japan and instead “develop the production processes in-house and outsource to smaller manufacturers such as Taiwan’s AU Optronics or Innolux.

Apple currently uses LCD screens in its Macs and iOS devices and an OLED display for Apple Watch and the new lab was where Qualcomm tried to develop to develop its own Mirasol displays.

Mirasol use a different technology to backlit LCDs or OLED. It uses an array of microscopic mirror-like elements that can reflect light of a specific colour. It does not need a backlight and only uses energy when being switched on or off, like E-Ink.

The downside to IMOD has historically been that it reproduces flat, unsaturated colours, a problem that may be possible to fix. Qualcomm introduced a Toq smartwatch with an IMOD screen, but the device flopped.

Qualcomm took a $142 million charge on its Mirasol display business and a year ago there were rumours Qualcomm was selling off its Longtan Mirasol panel plant to TSMC.

What appears to have happened is that Jobs Mob might have bought more than just the facility, and instead has some interest in using Mirasol IMOD technology which could offer an advanced technological breakthrough in enabling a new class of low-power displays for use in phones, tablets or wearables.


AMD Goes Full Steam To Open-Source

December 30, 2015 by  
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AMD and now RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) are involved in a major push to open source GPU resources.

According to Ars Technica Under the handle “GPUOpen” AMD is releasing a slew of open-source software and tools to give developers of games, heterogeneous applications, and HPC applications deeper access to the GPU and GPU resources.

In a statement AMD said that as a continuation of the strategy it started with Mantle, it is giving even more control of the GPU to developers.

“ As console developers have benefited from low-level access to the GPU, AMD wants to continue to bring this level of access to the PC space.”

The AMD GPUOpen initiative is meant to give developers the ability to use assets they’ve already made for console development. They will have direct access to GPU hardware, as well as access to a large collection of open source effects, tools, libraries and SDKs, which are being made available on GitHub under an MIT open-source license.

AMD wants GPUOpen will enable console-style development for PC games through this open source software initiative. It also includes an end-to-end open source compute infrastructure for cluster-based computing and a new Linux software and driver strategy

All this ties in with AMD’s Boltzmann Initiative and an HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) software suite that includes an HCC compiler for C++ development. This was supposed to open the field of programmers who can use HSA. A new HCC C++ compiler was set up to enable developers to more easily use discrete GPU hardware in heterogeneous systems.

It also allows developers to convert CUDA code to portable C++. According to AMD, internal testing shows that in many cases 90 percent or more of CUDA code can be automatically converted into C++ with the final 10 percent converted manually in the widely popular C++ language. An early access program for the “Boltzmann Initiative” tools is planned for Q1 2016.

AMD GPUOpen includes a new Linux driver model and runtime targeted at HPC Cluster-Class Computing. The headless Linux driver is supposed to handle high-performance computing needs with low latency compute dispatch and PCI Express data transfers, peer-to-peer GPU support, Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) from InfiniBand that interconnects directly to GPU memory and Large Single Memory Allocation support.


TSMC Goes Fan-Out Wafers

December 23, 2015 by  
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TSMC is scheduled to move its integrated fan-out (InFO) wafer-level packaging technology to volume production in the second quarter of 2016.

Apparently the fruity cargo cult Apple has already signed up to adopt the technology, which means that the rest of the world’s press will probably notice.

According to the Commercial Times TSMC will have 85,000-100,000 wafers fabricated with the foundry’s in-house developed InFo packaging technology in the second quarter of 2016.

TSMC has disclosed its InFO packaging technology will be ready for mass production in 2016. Company president and co-CEO CC Wei remarked at an October 15 investors meeting that TSMC has completed construction of a new facility in Longtan, northern Taiwan.

TSMC’s InFo technology will be ready for volume production in the second quarter of 2016, according to Wei.

TSMC president and co-CEO Mark Liu disclosed the company is working on the second generation of its InFO technology for several projects on 10nm and 7nm process nodes.


Samsung Goes Auto

December 22, 2015 by  
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Samsung has announced it will begin manufacturing electronics parts for the automotive industry, with a primary focus on autonomous vehicles.

The South Korean electronics giant is only the latest tech firm to make a somewhat belated push into the carmaker industry, as vehicle computer systems and sensors become more sophisticated.

In October, General Motors announced a strategic partnership with South Korea’s LG Electronics. LG will supply a majority of the key components for GM’s upcoming electric vehicle (EV), the Chevrolet Bolt. LG has also been building computer modules for GM’s OnStar telecommunications system for years.

Apple and Google have also developed APIs that are slowly being embedded by automakers to allow smartphones to natively connect and display their infotainment screens. Those APIs led to the rollout in several vehicles this year of Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto.

Having formerly balked at the automotive electronics market as too small, consumer computer chipmakers are now entering the space with fervor.

Dutch semiconductor maker NXP is closing an $11.8 billion deal to buy Austin-based Freescale, which makes automotive microprocessors. The combined companies would displace Japan’s Renesas as the world’s largest vehicle chipmaker.

German semiconductor maker Infineon Technology has reportedly begun talks to buy a stake in Renesas.

Adding to growth in automotive electronics are regulations mandating technology such as backup cameras in the U.S. and “eCalling” in Europe, which automatically dials emergency services in case of an accident.

According to a report published by Thomson Reuters, Samsung and its tech affiliates are ramping up research and development for auto technology, with two-thirds of their combined 1,804 U.S. patent filings since 2010 related to electric vehicles and electric components for cars.

The combined automotive software, services and components market is worth around $500 billion, according to ABI Resarch.


Will GDDR5 Rule In 2016

December 21, 2015 by  
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AMD over-hyped the new  High Bandwidth Memory standard and now the second generation HBM 2.0 is coming in 2016. However it looks like most of GPUs shipped in this year will still rely on the older GDDR5.

Most of the entry level, mainstream and even performance graphics cards from both Nvidia and AMD will rely on the GDDR5. This memory has been with us since 2007 but it has dramatically increased in speed. The memory chip has shrunken from 60nm in 2007 to 20nm in 2015 making higher clocks and lower voltage possible.

Some of the big boys, including Samsung and Micron, have started producing 8 Gb GDDR5 chips that will enable cards with 1GB memory per chip. The GTX 980 TI has 12 chips with 4 Gb support (512MB per chip) while Radeon Fury X comes with four HMB 1.0 chips supporting 1GB per chip at much higher bandwidth. Geforce Titan X has 24 chips with 512MB each, making the total amount of memory to 12GB.

The next generation cards will  get 12GB memory with 12 GDDR5 memory chips or 24GB with 24 chips. Most of the mainstream and performance cards will come with much less memory.

Only a few high end cards such as Greenland high end FinFET solution from AMD and a Geforce version of Pascal will come with the more expensive and much faster HMB 2.0 memory.

GDDR6 is arriving in 2016 at least at Micron and the company promises a much higher bandwidth compared to the GDDR5. So there will be a few choices.