The Post-Silicon Era

Masamitsu “Matt” Aoki has updated his detailed charts of “Build-Up Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 14.1) and “Thin Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 24.1). They are both now current through June 2014. Write to us at if you wish a copy.

 Who will share in IBM’s vision of the future? During the next 5 years IBM will invest $3 billion in R&D for “the post-silicon era.” Which equipment and material suppliers will partner with it? Who else has such a forward looking budget? According to CIO Bernie Meyerson, the investments include programs in areas such as III-V materials expected to be used around the 5nm node, which some say could be the last generation of silicon-based chip technology. They also include a broad set of programs ranging from 3D chip packaging to computer architectures such as quantum and neural processing and post-silicon chip materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. “This is not about semiconductors per se but a broad statement about reinventing computing,” he said. Today’s silicon CMOS processes will hit atomic limits (a brick wall) somewhere around the 5nm node in about 2020. Many of the IBM programs are about finding new techniques that will drive hardware performance beyond that point. “The real issue is silicon goes quantum mechanical at these dimensions. It no longer works. At this time, there is no consensus on what’s next.” However, “we still have a 5-10 year horizon” to find solutions.

 Someone forgot to tell them…

…about the economic recovery. Microsoft will chop 18,000 jobs in the next year as it lays off 14% of its workforce. 2/3 of the cut will come from the phone and tablet work force in order to eliminate the post Nokia acquisition bulge. I guess CEO Satya Nadella won’t be running for US president in the near future.0

It was not too long ago when “everyone” just wanted a very small cellphone. Smartphones with screens larger than 5.5″ seem to be cutting into the tablet market, especially those with 7 to 7.9″screens which accounted for 58% of the market in 2013. Tablet shipments the first quarter of 2014 declined about 5% from the same period last year. This is the first time such a drop has been noted in tablet sales since their introduction.

Good move, Ray! Have you noticed the shortage of RF substrates? Isola announced increased production of and a 24-hr response service to provide designers with a turnkey solution for all the calculations, testing, characterization and material recommendations to fill the gap with its “low loss materials.” Target applications include 23GHz, and 76-79Hz frequencies used in advanced driver frequencies.

It is not too early …

… to start planning your participation and attendance at the early key Fall events. Have you wondered if the lost board business has all gone overseas or if something else is occurring? Have advances in packaging and system technology supplanted portions? Are segments morphing into newer technologies? Do you know what these opportunities (threats to your conventional business) are?

You will have an opportunity to view, discuss, and evaluate, these at the rebranded 2nd annual Electronic Systems Technologies Conference and Exhibition to be held at the IPC TechSummit in Raleigh, North Carolina October 28-30. Some of the topics presented and discussed at the original held in Las Vegas have already begun to move into the mainstream. Chaired once again by Intel’s Dr. Senol Pekin, this year’s event has already attracted key interconnect industry figures who will discuss trends, what matters to them, and new technologies.

It is also worth noting that Dr. Michael Osterman, director of CALCE at the University of Maryland will chair the 8th Annual Tin Whiskers Conference during TechSummit.

It’s a cut-and-paste world. One of my Korean business associates, a retired research engineer, says that Korea is a “Copy and Paste Technology” country. Korean companies buy the minimum order for state of the art equipment from Japanese companies and conduct a detailed tear down analysis. From this reverse “R&D,” they build their own equipment with minor modifications. There is no innovative idea in the new machines — the only difference is a much lower cost. The executive teams from Samsung Electronics recognize the lack of innovation from their engineering staff, and are encourage its R&D departments to generate new ideas. Unfortunately, nothing new has come from them over the last several years. One R&D director told me that he has more than 50 engineers with PhDs from universities in Japan and the US, but none of them can come up with any creative ideas. From the engineers view, one R&D manager grumbled that his department forwards many proposals to the executive managing teams, but none of them are ever accepted. The executive teams ask for accurate forecasts from potential products or ideas, but the R&D teams cannot accurately forecast the potential for a product that is not in the market. — Dominique N.


What Does New CEO for Microsoft Mean for Hardware?

In the end, Microsoft couldn’t pull the trigger. In Seattle, outside just wasn’t “in.”

The world’s largest software developer today named Satya Nadella, head of the the company’s Server and Tools unit, as its new chief executive. The 46-year-old Nadella becomes just the third person to lead Microsoft, one of the most successful and wealthiest companies ever.

Thus ends one of the longest mating calls since Prince Charles’. Microsoft was reported to have danced with a bevy of blue chip candidates, including Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, Qualcomm COO Steve Mullenkopf, and Oracle exec (and former HP head) Mark Hurd, among others.

So when John Thompson, Microsoft’s new chairman, says, “Satya is clearly the best person to lead Microsoft,” one wonders why it took so long for them to recognize it. Perhaps they had to go through the rituals before realizing the prettiest date was the one they already live with.

In opting for Nadella, Microsoft eschewed calls to go outside for an executive who might shake up its culture or sell of pieces to boost its share price. Like Intel, it chose continuity and engineering prowess over salesmanship and the flavor of the day.

My take is Microsoft’s culture isn’t the problem; it’s been the top management’s inability to establish the proper hierarchy to allow the brilliance of the company’s thousands of engineers to come through. Time and again, Microsoft has had great ideas on the drawing board, but been beaten to market by competitors that simply execute much faster (read: Apple). Under Nadella, that will have to change.

Clearly Nadella understands how hardware can drive software purchases. As head of Microsoft’s Server and Tools business, he led a $19 billion, 10,000-employee entity that is front and center in the world of cloud computing. As he told Venture Beat in an interview last May, “We broadly as a company are moving from a software company to a devices and services company, and that’s really the transformation, both in terms of technology and delivery – as well as business model. What I do, what our division does is very central to this.”

Given his knowledge of the hardware supply chain, we are eager to see whether Nadella sees value in pulling manufacturing in-house. Such a move could demonstrably alter the EMS landscape for years to come, not because Microsoft is a dominant customer of any of the major contract assemblers — Flextronics builds the Xbox, but none of the Top Tier EMS firms counts Microsoft at a 10% or more client — but because OEMs have a herd mentality and if it works for Microsoft, they will likely follow.

Thanks to the roughly $100 billion in cash Microsoft has on hand, Nadella will have the resources to get wherever he wants to go, and, with Steve Ballmer retiring and Bill Gates stepping down as chairman, he will have full authority to make the tough decisions without the specter of the founders looming over his shoulder. Those two decisions — cofounder Paul Allen stepped aside years ago and is now seen rocking out at Super Bowl parties for the Seattle Seahawks, which he owns — should not be downplayed, as Nadella will not only need the financial backing but the unmitigated authority to make Microsoft as successful in next three decades as it was in the last three.

Cadence: All Sync’d Up

Cadence today announced the release of point revisions to both Allegro and OrCAD, continuing its tradition of keeping releases of its major platforms in sync. They show significant upgrades in timing speeds and simulation speeds, respectively, as well as better use of state-of-the-art collaboration tools.

To the latter point, Hemant Shah, the product marketing manager for Allegro, says the point releases are a reflection of changes Cadence sees in the user base. ODMs are evolving to “parallelism,” he told me. “That’s where we learned the EDA tools were not designed for parallelism and needed to be rethought.” As a result, Cadence adopted Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration tools, giving users a greater control over different versions and WIP design data management.

It was interesting to hear a major software vendor acknowledge that not everything developed in-house would or could be best in class. Likewise, Shah said that the company’s recent acquisition of Sigrity reaffirms the management’s commitment to the PCB space — something its competitors have questioned from time to time.

He added that the future releases leverage Sigrity’s power and SI technology across both the existing platforms and in Sigrity’s standalone products.