Can Plastic Replace Silicon?

May 7, 2014 by admin  
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Can plastic materials morph into computers? A research breakthrough recently published brings such a possibility closer to reality.

Researchers are looking at the possibility of making low-power, flexible and inexpensive computers out of plastic materials. Plastic is not normally a good conductive material. However, researchers said this week that they have solved a problem related to reading data.

The research, which involved converting electricity from magnetic film to optics so data could be read through plastic material, was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and New York University. A paper on the research was published in this week’s Nature Communications journal.

More research is needed before plastic computers become practical, acknowledged Michael Flatte, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa. Problems related to writing and processing data need to be solved before plastic computers can be commercially viable.

Plastic computers, however, could conceivably be used in smartphones, sensors, wearable products, small electronics or solar cells, Flatte said.

The computers would have basic processing, data gathering and transmission capabilities but won’t replace silicon used in the fastest computers today. However, the plastic material could be cheaper to produce as it wouldn’t require silicon fab plants, and possibly could supplement faster silicon components in mobile devices or sensors.

“The initial types of inexpensive computers envisioned are things like RFID, but with much more computing power and information storage, or distributed sensors,” Flatte said. One such implementation might be a large agricultural field with independent temperature sensors made from these devices, distributed at hundreds of places around the field, he said.

The research breakthrough this week is an important step in giving plastic computers the sensor-like ability to store data, locally process the information and report data back to a central computer.

Mobile phones, which demand more computing power than sensors, will require more advances because communication requires microwave emissions usually produced by higher-speed transistors than have been made with plastic.

It’s difficult for plastic to compete in the electronics area because silicon is such an effective technology, Flatte acknowledged. But there are applications where the flexibility of plastic could be advantageous, he said, raising the possibility of plastic computers being information processors in refrigerators or other common home electronics.

“This won’t be faster or smaller, but it will be cheaper and lower power, we hope,” Flatte said.

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Dell Unveils Laptop/Tablet Hybrid

April 21, 2014 by admin  
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Dell unveiled a new 11.6-in. screen rugged laptop that has literally has a twist — the screen can rotate 180 degrees to turn the device into a tablet.

At first, the Latitude 12 looks like a laptop. But within the display panel, the screen rotates 180 degrees and the laptop turns into a tablet once placed on the keyboard.

The new Latitude 12 laptop is part of a new Rugged Extreme line of laptops, which also includes the Rugged Extreme 14. The new laptops are robust and can withstand six-foot drops and remain protected from extreme weather conditions.

The laptops have hard covers that add a layer of protection, but also make the products heavy. The Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme weighs 2.72 kilograms with a four-cell battery, while the 14-in. counterpart weighs 3.54 kilograms with a six-cell battery and no optical drive.

The laptops can also withstand solar radiation, “explosive atmosphere” and weather ranging from -20 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees to 63 degrees Celsius), according to specifications provided by Dell. The products are targeted at field workers like emergency responders and the military, and will compete against Toughbook rugged laptops from Panasonic.

The Latitude 12 rugged laptop has a starting price of $3,649, while the Latitude 14 begins at $3,499. The laptops will ship next month.

The hybrid design in Latitude 12 has been borrowed from the company’s XPS 12 Ultrabook Touch, which has a 12.5-inch screen that can similarly flip to turn the laptop into a tablet. The resistive touch screens on both laptops can show images at a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.

The laptops will have storage options of up to 512GB solid-state drives. Users can configure the laptop with Intel’s latest fourth-generation Core processorscode-named Haswell. The laptops will come with either Windows 8.1 or 7, or Ubuntu Linux operating systems.

Other features include support for up to 16GB of DRAM, Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet through a connector. The laptop also has USB 3.0, USB 2.0, VGA and HDMI ports. Mobile broadband and docking are available as options.

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What Do Smaller Controllers Mean?

March 10, 2014 by admin  
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If you want a wearable Internet of Things, the electronics have to be as tiny and as energy efficient as possible. That’s why a new microcontroller by Freescale Semiconductor is noteworthy.

The company has produced the Kinetis KLO3 MCU, a 32-bit ARM system that is 15% smaller than its previous iteration but with a 10% power improvement.

Internet of Things is a buzzword for the trend toward network-connected sensors incorporated into devices that in the past were standalone appliances. These devices use sensors to capture things like temperatures in thermostats, pressure, accelerometers, gyroscopes and other types of MEMS sensors. A microcontroller unit gives intelligence and limited computational capability to these devices, but is not a general purpose processor. One of the roles of the microcontroller is to connect the data with more sophisticated computational power.

The Kinetis KLO3 runs a lightweight embedded operating system to connect the data to other devices, such as an app that uses a more general purpose processor.

Kathleen Jachimiak, product launch manager at Freescale, said the new microcontroller will “enable further miniaturization” in connected devices. This MCU is capable of having up to 32 KB of flash memory and 2 KB of RAM.

Consumers want devices that are light, small and smart. They also want to be able to store their information and send it to an application that’s either on a phone or a PC, Jachimiak said.

This microcontroller, at 1.6 x 2.0 mm, is smaller than the dimple on a golf ball, and uses a relatively new process in its manufacturing, called wafer level chip scale packaging. The process involves building the integrated package while the die is still part of a wafer. It’s a more efficient process and produces the smallest possible package, for a given die size.

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LPDDR4 Smartphones Coming Next Year

January 6, 2014 by admin  
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A modern phone with 2GB of memory works just fine and since all Android chips and the OS itself support 32-bit mode only, it doesn’t makes much sense to jump over 3.5GB anytime soon.

Still, 64-bit support for Android might be coming after all and Samsung has a solution for people who want more than 3GB on their phone. Samsung has announced the first 8 gigabit (Gb) 4GB RAM module based on low power double data rate 4 (LPDDR4 memory).

It is a 20nm chip and has the lowest energy consumption and higher density to date. Four 8Gb dies combine to offer a single 4GB module we should see them in smartphones and tablets in the near future.

With 3.1 Gbps bandwidth the new LPDDR4 can deliver a 50 percent speed boost over the existing DDR3 and LPDDR3 based chips. Samsung also claims that LPDDR4 will enable a data transfer rate per pin of 3,200 megabits per second (Mbps), which is twice that of the 20nm-class LPDDR3 DRAM.

The Samsung claims that the chip needs 1.1 volts which is 40 percent less than what you would need for 20nm DDR3 chips and mass production starts in 2014.

It is not known when we can expect to see phones and tablets based on LPDDR4 anytime soon, but a dreamer can hope that phones such as Samsung Galaxy S5 might end up using one. After all this should be the next big thing, at least this is what Samsung wants you to believe.

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New USB Chip Developed

October 18, 2013 by admin  
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Silicon Motion says it has begun shipping samples of a new USB 3.0 controller chip for flash drives that could boost performance by up to 50%.

The company said the new SM3267 integrated controller is expected to deliver up to 160MB/s read, and 60MB/s write speeds through a single channel; that would be a 30% to 50% performance improvement over today’s USB 3.0 flash drive technology.

Even though the USB 3.0 specification has the capability to support 4.8Gbps throughput speeds, the speed of a USB 3.0-enabled flash drive is dictated by the speed of the accessing flash devices in the drive. Today, most consumer-USB 3.0 flash drives support about 100MB/s read speeds.

We are pleased to announce that SM3267 has received design-ins from most of our current USB controller customers, including many top-tier OEMs, and we expect SM3267-based USB 3.0 flash drives will be commercially available starting in the fourth quarter of 2013,” Wallace Kou, CEO of Silicon Motion, said in a statement.

The new integrated chip will also be able to run at lower voltages, from 5 volts to 1.2 volts, enabling a 25% to 30% lower USB flash drive device temperature compared with other USB 3.0 flash controller products in the market, Silicon Motion said.

The new IC will support the vast majority of NAND flash technology, including new triple-level cell (TLC), multi-level cell (MLC), high speed Toggle, and ONFI DDR NAND manufactured by Samsung, Toshiba, SanDisk, SK Hynix, Micron and Intel.

The new chip has already passed both USB-IF compliance testing and WHCK (Windows Hardware Certification Kit) tests for Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The new IC is available in a Chip-on-Board (COB) and in a 48-pin QFN green package.

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Micron Ships Hybrid Memory Cube

October 11, 2013 by admin  
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Micron Technology has announced that is is currently shipping 2GB Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) engineering samples that represent a dramatic step forward in memory technology and are designed for applications that require high-bandwidth access to memory like data processing, data packet buffering or storage.

According to Micron, the Hybrid Memory Cube uses advanced through-silicon vias (TSVs)-vertical conduit that connect a stack of individual chips in order to combine high-performance logic with Micron’s DRAM. The current engineering sample features a 2GB memory cube that consists of four 4Gb DRAM dies. It provides 160GB/s of memory bandwidth while using up to 70 percent less energy per bit when compared to currently available technologies.

Micron expects 4GB HMC engineering samples to be available in early 2014 while volume production of both 2GB and 4GB HMC is scheduled to begin later in 2014.

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WiLan Loses In Court

July 25, 2013 by admin  
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Wi-Lan has suffered defeat in its patents trial against Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, HTC and Sony, as a Texas court decided that the firms did not infringe its patents.

Wi-Lan filed a lawsuit against Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, HTC and Sony in 2010 claiming the firms infringed patents that relate to data transmission over wireless networks. However a Texas court ruled that the four firms did not infringe Wi-Lan’s patents and found one patent Wi-Lan asserted against HTC and two it asserted against Alcatel Lucent invalid.

Wi-Lan had asserted that Alcatel Lucent and Ericsson infringed three patents, none of which claims were upheld by the court. The firm also asserted that HTC and Sony infringed another patent, and there the court not only judged against infringement but invalidated the patent.

Alcatel Lucent and HTC both said that Wi-Lan was trying to stretch its patents to cover technology in their devices.

Sally Julien, a spokeswoman for HTC said, “HTC believes that Wi-Lan has exaggerated the scope of its patent in order to extract unwarranted licensing royalties from entities who have been focused on bringing innovation forward in their own products.”

Kurt Steinert, an Alcatel Lucent spokesman said, “We think this validates our belief that Wi-Lan was stretching the boundaries of its patents, and the jury confirmed that belief.”

Wi-Lan has managed to get several companies to license its technology including Dell and Panasonic, and in May it initiated legal proceedings against Blackberry over a patent relating to Long Term Evolution network technology. However in this case the firm did not prevail against two large telecom equipment companies and two big smartphone makers.

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WD And Sandisk Join Forces

May 20, 2013 by admin  
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Western Digital and Sandisk have teamed up to create Western Digital’s first hybrid storage device that uses Sandisk’s iSSD and Western Digital’s Caviar Black hard drive.

Western Digital, which has dabbled in solid state disks (SSDs) for the enterprise market, has stayed away from hybrid drives that use relatively small SSDs to act as cache for hard drives. Now the firm has teamed with Sandisk to create its WD Black Solid State Hybrid drives with 500GB capacity.

Western Digital is pitching its hybrid drives at laptop makers, offering units with 5mm, 7mm and 9.5mm heights. The firm said Sandisk’s iSSD uses 19nm NAND flash and claimed it is the world’s “smallest and most advanced semiconductor manufacturing process”, a claim that Intel might question.

Kevin Conley, SVP and GM of client storage solutions at Sandisk said, “By combining SanDisk’s unparalleled flash memory expertise and technology with the hard drive know-how of Western Digital, WD Black SSHDs [solid state hard drives] offer outstanding hard drive-like capacity, and the slim form factor and the level of performance that you will only get with flash memory solutions.”

Seagate was first to introduce hybrid drives with its Momentus XT range, which offers an impressive performance boost over mechanical hard drives for certain workloads. The problem for Western Digital and Seagate is that hybrid drives are merely a stop-gap rather than a long term strategy, with SSD prices falling rapidly due to competition in the SSD industry as opposed to the hard drive industry, where Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba have a comfortable ride.

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Is Non-Volatile Memory The Next Craze?

March 4, 2013 by admin  
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A report from analysts Yole Developpement claims that MRAM/STTMRAM and PCM will lead the Emerging Non-Volatile Memory (ENVM) market and earn a combined $1.6bn by 2018. If the North Koreans have not conquered America, by 2018 then MRAM/STTMRAM and PCM will surely be the top two ENVM on the market.

Yole’s Yann de Charentenay said that their combined sales will almost double each year, with double-density chips launched every two years. So far we have only had FRAM, PCM and MRAM to play with and they were available in low-density chips to only a few players. The market was quite limited and considerably smaller than the DRAM and flash markets which had combined revenues of $50bn+ in 2012, the report said. In the next five years the scalability and chip density of those memories will be greatly improved and will spark many new applications, says the report.

ENVM will greatly improve the input/output performance of enterprise storage systems whose requirements will intensify with the growing need for web-based data supported by cloud servers, the report said. Mobile phones will increase its adoption of PCM as a substitute to flash NOR memory in MCP packages thanks to 1GB chips made available by Micron in 2012, it added. The next milestone will be the higher-density chips, expected in 2015, will allow access to smart phone applications that are quickly replacing entry-level phones.

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Developers Gaining Interest In WP8

February 11, 2013 by admin  
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Developers are becoming increasingly interested in developing apps for Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10.

According to ABI Research, Android and iOS remain dominant platforms, with Android in the lead in the smartphone space and iOS dominating the tablet market.

However, developers are also focusing on Windows Phone and BB10. AI analyst Aapo Markkanen believes 45 million Windows Phone devices will be in use by the end of the year, along with up to 20 million BB10 devices. Redmond will also have 5.5 million Windows powered tablet by the end of the year.

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