Micro News
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 (Vol. 24, No. 1) p. 6
0272-1732/04/$31.00 © 2004 IEEE

Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Micro News
CHIP MANUFACTURERS SPENDING MORE ON R&D
To cash in on their new markets, chip makers are spending on research and development as never before. According to the National Science Foundation, spending on chip R&D jumped 45 percent from 1998 to 2001, reaching $14.2 million, and it continues to rise. Intel announced it will spend $4.8 billion this year on R&D, up 10 percent from 2003 and the largest one year increase in its 35-year history.
Texas Instruments plans to increase its R&D budget as well—after boosting its investments 10 percent last year, to $1.75 billion.
Taking Technology to Mars
Chip maker Nvidia developed one of the key technological advances used in the Mars Exploration Rover mission. An Nvidia-designed graphics system assembled in NASA's control center collects thousands of points of terrain data, which the Rover gathers every minute and assembles into a 3D representation of the Martian landscape.
Dsps Expand in Consumer Media
Analog Devices' rollout in late January of its latest Blackfin processors reinforces a growing industry consensus that consumer media devices could mark the next great opportunity for digital signal processors.
Many see the math-friendly and readily programmable DSPs as a necessary response to the ever-escalating demands for flexibility and high performance in today's compute-intensive audio and video consumer applications.
Newly architected chips such as Blackfin, some authorities suggest, provide a more compact way to save space and power than traditional solutions that team a DSP with a microcontroller in a configuration, which one observer dismisses as "just the DSP chip next to some other chip."
Traditionally, consumer systems have used a combination of DSPs for compute-intensive video and graphics processing, and a RISC-based processor for user interface and control functions. Texas Instruments, for example, couples a C55x or C64x DSP with an ARM processor. In the case of Blackfin, Analog Devices is counting on the processor's blend of high-end, code-efficient DSP processing with high RISC performance to obviate a dual-processor DSP-ARM approach in all but the most demanding applications.
Chip Sales Soar
Global chip sales in November 2003 hit $16.13 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over the October 2003 figure of $15.43 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA).
The figures suggest that once-bloated inventories have whittled down enough to allow sustained growth. The SIA projects chip sales to increase 19.5 percent to $195 billion in 2004.
Big Profit for Intel in Quarter
Riding strong sales in its core microprocessor business, Intel reported that its 2003 fourth-quarter profit jumped 107 percent over the previous year to $2.2 billion.
Intel cited a rebound in corporate computer purchases, particularly in North America and Western Europe. The results justified the company's decision to spend heavily in research and on upgrading its manufacturing plants over the past three years, even in the midst of the technology slump.
AMD Posts First Profit in Two Years
Advanced Micro Devices posted its first profit in more than two years and recorded near-record sales, as demand for AMD microprocessors and flash memory surged in the fourth quarter. In the three months up to 28 December 2003, AMD earned $43 million, or 12 cents per share, on sales of $1.206 billion. During the same period in 2002, it lost $855 million, or $2.49 per share, on sales of $686.4 million. Analysts were expecting a profit of 4 cents per share on sales of $1.08 billion, according to a survey by Thomson First Call. The company last posted a profit in the second quarter of 2001.
Researchers Develop Image Resolution Technology
A team of researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology has developed the ability to use optical microlithography to produce semiconductor device geometry as small as 38 nm. The team, led by Bruce Smith, Intel Professor of Microelectronic Engineering and associate dean of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, used a prototype liquid immersion nanolithography tool developed at RIT.
Smith says researchers can now use optics and light much closer to the ultraviolet range to produce microelectronic devices that previously required extreme ultraviolet or near x-ray wavelengths. This allows for more rapid and cost-effective development of small, powerful, and affordable microelectronic devices.
The process is an enhanced method of creating circuit patterns on computer chips by exposing a light-sensitive layer, called photoresist, through a layer of water rather than through air.