Gathered below are the top five stories for the week beginning Sunday May 23, 2004, as ranked by Silicon Strategies' readers, up to and including Saturday May 29. The ranking is based on the number of reader "views" or "hits" on a particular article.
Mark LaPedus, the editor of Silicon Strategies, and Peter Clarke, news director, provide commentary and analysis on the week's top stories.
1) Chipworks claims UMC-made 90-nm part lacks low-k process .... Chipworks Inc., a Canadian semiconductor engineering services company, said the L90 manufacturing process from Taiwanese foundry United Microelectronics Corp. used in a Spartan-3 field programmable gate array from Xilinx Inc., does not make use of a low-k inter-layer dielectric.
2) Hynix non-memory ops reportedly sold for $800 million .... The non-memory operations of Hynix Semiconductor Inc. are to be sold to Citigroup Venture Capital for about 950 billion won (about US$810 million) according to the Chosun Ilbo website.
3) Limited availability of manufacturing equipment threatens foundries .... Shortages of select semiconductor equipment threatens to temper the near-term supply growth for major silicon foundry vendors, according to a report issued by SG Cowen Securities Corp.
During the various conference calls, chip-equipment executives tend to downplay the lead-time issues. Many vendors are saying that they can deliver product at a moment's notice, but VLSI Research and others believe the industry was caught off guard after the past downturn.
Fab-tool vendors made deep and painful cuts during the downturn, especially within their respective manufacturing and service infrastructures. As a result, many fab-tool vendors have been unable to respond to customer lead-time requirements amid the current cycle.
One trend has helped vendors to one degree or another. A growing number of vendors have outsourced their production to contract electronic manufacturers (CEMs) in order to cut costs. However, the jury is still out if CEMs are able to get product on the streets more rapidly. ML
4) Intel planning Indian manufacturing, say reports .... Intel Corp. has reserved 50 to 70 acres of land in Chennai in the South of India for a manufacturing plant, according to a report in the Economic Times.
I doubt Intel is looking to build a fab in India. Fabs in India? I'll wager we'll see fabs on Mars first. That's large-scale, 300-mm production fabs, not R&D lines. India lacks the capital and infrastructure to build production fabs. C.V. Dee
5) UMC claims 90-nm process leadership over TSMC .... Taiwanese foundry United Microelectronics Corp. claimed to have taken a lead over rival foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. with the deployment of its 90-nanometer manufacturing process.
"Today, we are extremely happy to see our hard work paying off with the production success of customers utilizing our 90nm foundry services," said Jackson Hu, UMC's chief executive officer, in a statement.
UMC's claim to have taken a leadership position over TSMC in 90-nanometer manufacturing came at the beginning of a week that was later to see that leadership challenged by a Canadian engineering services company, Chipworks Inc. (see above).
Given the disparate nature of nominally similar 90-nm process technologies from different companies it would seem that claiming the lead is always going to be susceptible to an "comparing apples and oranges" defence. PDC
Sunday, May 23
Analysis: uncertainly lingers for IC-equipment industry .... Uncertainty lingers in the semiconductor equipment industry despite a strong but possibly brief surge in orders.
The best observations I've heard about the IC and fab-tool industries lately have come from Michael Kirk, vice president and general manager of KLA-Tencor Inc.'s Surfscan Division, a supplier of silicon wafer metrology tools.
The consensus is that chip makers remain "very cautious" about adding new wafer-fab capacity right now, Kirk said. As a result, the semiconductor market is seeing "sustained growth" verses a "massive inflection point" like the last and wild upturn, he said.
"We're certainly positive about things," he told Silicon Strategies. "It's not nutty like 2000. That might not be so bad."
Perhaps what bothers Wall Street is that the semiconductor industry is maturing and chip makers are becoming more mature. Instead of adding capacity without any signs of solid demand, semiconductor manufacturers appear to be more careful about adding fab tools to their respective lines. But this new and prudent way of thinking must be driving semi equipment vendors crazy. ML
Monday, May 24
Intel hires engineers from Russia's processor program .... Intel Corp. has hired as many as 600 engineers currently working at Russia's Unipro and the Moscow Center for Sparc Technologies (MCST), according to the Financial Times web site.
The so-called Elbrus computing initiative in Russia was always long on rhetoric and short on a being able to deliver manufactured high-speed silicon. It was a classic example of Russian scientific and engineering excellence thwarted by a lack of capital, a lack of access to leading-edge manufacturing, and plenty of isolation.
The one thing that gave the Russian engineers was a different way of looking at computing.
Intel's move to hire this team of engineers is an apparent endorsement of some of their ideas but they should beware that rather than allowing them to break out into the affluent Western lifestyle, Intel's backing may merely be used to keep them isolated and running at problems from left-field.
That's what often happens when eastern bloc research groups are picked up by western commercial enterprises. PDC
Flash memory prices driven down, say reports .... The two leading suppliers of flash memory, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Toshiba Corp., are reducing prices to increase demand and disrupt rivals' plans, according to a Reuters report that referenced industry officials and market analysts, as its sources.
Tuesday, May 25
UMC says 90-nm process comes in low-k or FSG versions Officials from United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) said that a Canadian semiconductor engineering services company had got the wrong impression about its L90 90-nm manufacturing process. Chipworks had previously said the lack of low-k dielectric in a Xilinx Spartan FPGA made with the L90 process was contrary to publicity materials. The UMC officials said this was not the case and that the L90 process is offered in either a low-k and fluoro-silicate glass (FSG) configuration.
This is not the first time that an Ottawan engineering services company has drawn attention to its reverse engineering skills by crying 'foul' over an IDM's process technology.
Whether UMC has always offered the L90 process in low-k and non-low-k forms is hard for us to know. What is not disputed is that the particular form of L90 used in the Spartan FPGA examined by Chipworks Inc. does not include a low-k material as an intermetal dielectric.
Which begs the question; where are the low-k/L90 tape outs?
Apparently it for Xilinx there was a choice and it was a question of cost. The FSG/L90 process gave appropriate performance at lower cost and so it was the right choice. But I wonder if low-k/L90 is higher cost because a user would end up throwing away more die. In other words is "a question of cost" another way of saying "a question of yield"? PDC
Wednesday, May 26
Startup formed to exploit MIT's zone-plate-array litho .... Lumarray LLC is making use of multiple individually addressable optical beams shone through Fresnel lenses to define exposure of resist material. The company has built a table-top lithography system that is mask-less, and faster and much lower cost than conventional alternatives, it claims.
Thursday, May 27
Novellus raises Q2 forecast amid chip-equipment demand .... Novellus Systems Inc. raised its forecast for the second quarter of 2004, claiming it was enjoying strong demand for its semiconductor manufacturing equipment products.
For a change, Novellus had some good news as it slightly raised its Q2 forecast, but Cristina Osmena, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., remains tough on the chip-equipment company.
"We maintain our rating of 'hold' on Novellus Systems with a price target in the range of $29 to $32, representing a multiple of 17-19 times our new 2005 estimate of $1.71 (up from $1.68)," Osmena said in a report on Friday.
"During last night's mid-quarter update, Novellus raised Q2 proforma EPS guidance to $0.25 to $0.27 from a previous range of $0.18 to $0.20, excluding a 1x in-process R&D charge of $6 million for the acquisition of Angstron," Osmena said. "Earnings upside comes with very little revenue upside as operating efficiencies kick in and headcount grows slower than revenues. Revenue is expected to range between $325 million to $335 million, up from prior guidance of $305 million to $325 million."
Order guidance was refined only slightly to $380-$390 million from $375-$390 million, according to the analyst. "But the company did provide for the possibility of upside to over $400 million, depending on the closure of a large order at quarter end (Samsung, we believe)," she said.
"Management was upbeat and continues to see a rational rate of capacity expansion but an acceleration in technology transitions to copper and 300mm--places where the company stands to grow faster than the market," she added. ML
Friday, May 28
Gartner predicts memory market collapse, says report .... Worldwide memory sales, aggregating DRAM, SRAM and flash, are going to be lower in 2006 than in 2004, according to a Korea IT News report of market forecasts from a Gartner Group conference held in Seoul, South Korea.