Prepare for the trillion transistor era, says Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel. Speaking at Hot Chips 34, Gelsinger highlights the move from wafer foundry to ‘systems foundry’ and what this will mean for the industry. This will drive changes in design tools and commercial relationships, with Intel pushing its foundry business to bring together all the different elements, from IP to packaging and software.
Power consumption remains a significant challenge for this trillion transistor era, with Tesla highlighting its own developments with the DoJo AI supercomputer with 1.25tn transistors in a ‘tile’.
Developing these high performance chips can be challenging as well, as Tachyum in Slovenia found out. It is suing Cadence Design Systems for $211m over the supply of IP blocks. This will be an on-going issue in the IP industry.
RISC-V continues to capture the imagination, with the Boqueria chip shown at Hot Chips combining 1400 cores on a chip, and plans for the next generation space processor. NASA is looking to Microchip to develop the chip, with 12 RISC-V cores from SiFive. A RISC-V core has started operation in orbit in an FPGA, marking a significant move for the open source instruction set. One of Europe’s leading chip designers, Nordic Semiconductor, is also setting up a RISC-V design team after launching its first WiFi companion chip following the acquisition of the WiFi team and IP from Imagination Technologies.
Despite the signing of the US CHIPS Act to boost the building of fabs, the ‘smart capital’ deal with a private equity firm is reminiscent of the 1995 bubble in the semiconductor business, with the likes of Coca Cola and clothing firms looking to build fabs.
However the other massive capital expenditure is on battery gigafactories, as highlighted by in the Lars Carlstrom in his plans for ItalVolt on the former Olivetti plant in northern Italy.
The war in Ukraine is one of the factors driving the industry into the downturn, and the relationship with Russia continues to fracture. The latest report on restricted parts from US and European chip makers being used in weapons on the Ukrainian battlefield highlights the way the supply chain is complex and often unclear.
At the same time the relationship with China also continues to fracture after the visit of leading US politician Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. A European analyst warns that telecoms networks may be vulnerable to fill switches in silicon, cutting off the flow of data to the West in response in the same way Russia has cut off the flow of gas.
Part of the response is to limit more technologies for export, from wideband gap materials including diamond and EDA design tools for 3nm chips. This fracturing relationship also saw the UK block a proposed deal to buy EDA tool developer Pulsic as part of a plan to build leading edge tools in the country.