Last year, across the increasingly wide range of technologies used to build electronic devices, products pushed the envelope in lower power consumption, higher levels of integration, smaller package sizes and higher performance. And (of course) everything had to be even cheaper than the year before.
As evidenced by the number of components (from passives to semiconductors) rolled out in 2007, boosting performance in ever-smaller packages has been one of the industry's biggest design goals, often attainable only through higher levels of integration. But if I were to predict the next big thing for components in the coming year, it would be energy efficiency.
Some of the hottest new components launched in 2007 include quad-core processors by rival suppliers Intel and AMD. Intel launched first, unveiling the industry's first quad-core processors specifically designed for multiprocessor servers. The six Quad-Core Xeon 7300 series processors are said to deliver more than double the performance (and more than triple the performance per watt) of the previous-generation, dual-core products.
Not to be outdone, AMD delivered its quad-core Opteron, placing four powerful computer cores on a single processor die for use in datacenter applications. The quad-core Opteron's processor performance surpasses that of its competitor by up to 15 percent, according to the latest SPECcpu2006 benchmarks, a boost that AMD attributes to the processor's native dual-core design, Direct Connect Architecture, DDR2 memory and performance per watt.
Another trend that appeared late in 2007 and can only gain more traction in 2008 is the emerging market for NAND flash-based solid-state drives (SSDs). These tiny devices emulate hard drives by using flash memory to store operating systems and other types of data. Over the past month, several major players, including Toshiba, Micron and Intel, have entered the market.
Toshiba America Electronic Components introduced a series of products featuring multilevel cell NAND flash memory. Samples and the beginning of mass production are both expected in the first quarter of 2008. Micron Technology launched its RealSSD family of products, marking its entry into this burgeoning market sector. These devices are offered in a range of form factors and densities optimized for computing, enterprise server and networking applications. Micron is now sampling both devices, and mass production is expected in the first quarter.
Intel's latest entry into the SSD market is the Z-P140 PATA SSD, said to be one of the smallest aimed at handheld mobile devices. Intel says the drive is smaller than a penny and weighs less than a drop of water. These 2-G and 4-Gbyte devices are fast and rugged and use little power, making them well-suited for mobile Internet devices, digital entertainment and embedded products.
LEDs were also hot this year, led by Cree's XR-E LED (which has a luminous flux of up to 210 lumens at 1 A) and Osram's souped- up superbright Ostar headlamp LED, which peaks at 620 lumens at 700 mA, twice the brightness of its predecessor. Another eye-catching LED comes from Toshiba, which expanded its LED product line with a device twice as bright as previous-generation devices, delivering luminous intensity of 1500 millicandelas from a drive current of about 20 mA. The devices can be used in automotive lighting, LCD backlighting and panel indicators, as well as to replace incandescent bulbs in certain lighting applications.
Part of the growth of the LED market has taken place in the realm of automotive applications. Though primarily used to provide interior lighting, as in backlighting dashboards and displays and indicator lamps, LEDs are moving quickly into external use (for example, as daytime running lights); and just as strong a demand continues to come from manufacturers interested in backlighting keypads and displays in mobile devices. We'll also see more LEDs used in backlighting large-screen LCD TVs and notebook computers.