It’s no secret that chip sales have been hurting in this economy. In fact, semiconductor sales fell last year for this first time since the tech bubble burst in 2001. However, the newest numbers out seem to show a reasonable rebound. Global chip sales in Q3 rose 19.7% over Q2 to 61.9 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). The bad news is that sales were still over 10% lower than Q3 last year.
To a degree, this sort of increase is expected as demand ramps up approaching the holidays, but SIA president, George Scalise, has called the results “above expectations”. He pointed out that sales of PCs and cell phones have been running ahead of predictions. These devices are the largest consumers of semiconductors.
Positive signs continue to accumulate for the chip market. In addition to the just released numbers, previous values indicate that September actually saw a year-over-year gain of 7.8% in American sales. SIA is raising their projections for total 2009 sales. Is this a premature decision, or not? We’ll find out in a few months.
The economic squeeze that has been choking the tech industry might be loosening its grip. How so? Following news that the GPU market skyrocketed 21 percent in the third quarter with a strong outlook ahead, iSuppli reports global semiconductor revenues are signaling the start of a recovery.
"The seeds of the current recovery were sown in the second quarter," said Dale ford, senior vice president, market intelligence, for iSuppli. "During that period, manufacturers began to report positive book-to-bill ratios, indicating future revenue growth. This was followed by another sequential increase in revenues in the third quarter."
After a 5.8 percent decrease in 2008, the research firm estimates global semiconductor revenues will grow by 16.5 percent in 2009. Part of the reason for this comes from chip suppliers "slashing costs dramatically" to clear out unsold inventory in the third quarter.
iSuppli did warn that the first two quarters of 2010 will see revenues that are slightly down compared to the fourth quarter of 2009, but added that the second half of the year should show a strong 13.8 percent growth rate, finally ending the two-year losing streak.
Most chip manufacturers are busy readying the move to a 32nm manufacturing process, including Toshiba, which back in April of this year said it would begin mass producing 32Gb (gigabit) chips from the shrunken process by next month. But forget about 32nm - Toshiba says it has made a breakthrough in the use of strontium germanide (SrGex) that will make 16nm possible sooner than expected.
The breakthrough involves the development of a gate stack and interlayer with high carrier mobility that can be applied to metal-insulator-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MISFETs), ElectronicsWeekly.com reports. Today's MSIFETs use silicon for the channel, however the substance is reaching its design limit in terms of current handling capabilities.
Germanium presents design challenges too, namely the development of thin gate structures. According to Toshiba, it can get around these challenges by combining SrGex, a compound of strontium, and germanium, for use as an interlayer between the high-k insulating layer and the germanium channel.
The details get even geekier, but you'll have to wait for Toshiba to present the technology at the 2009 VLSI Symposia in Kyoto, Japan later this week.
IBM this week announced that members of its Bulk Process Alliance -- Globalfoundris, Chartered Semiconductor, Sasmung Electronics, ST Microelectronics, Infineon Technologies -- have begun jointly developing 28nm, high-k metal gate, low-power bulk complementary metal oxide semiconductor process technology (forgot about saying that three times fast, try doing it just once!).
"Clients can begin their designs today in leadership 32nm HKMG technology and then transition to 28nm technology for density and power advantages, without the need for a major redesign," IBM said. "By assuring a path from 32nm to 28nm technology, this migration methodology offers clients lower risk, reduced cost, and faster time-to-market."
The move to 28nm is an important one that purports to provide 40 percent better performance than current 45nm parts, while also reducing power consumption by 20 percent. Moreover the HKMG technology offers better power leakage characteristics for longer battery life, which added altogether will be a boon for mobile devices.
As if the semiconductor market needed any more bad news, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) released a statement showing how bad worldwide sales of semiconductors have fallen in the past year, while warning that the industry has yet to hit rock bottom.
"The global semiconductor industry is going through one of the steepest corrections in its history," said SIA President George Scalise. "While it would be premature to conclude that the sales decline has hit bottom, there are some indications that the rate of decline has moderated from the final quarter of 2008. The industry responded quickly to the changing market environment by curtailing production and reducing inventory as demand slowed in late 2008. The world’s two largest foundry manufacturers have recently reported slight improvements in factory utilization rates, albeit at levels well below those of a year ago," Scalise continued.
According to SIA, worldwide semiconductor sales sat at just $14.2 billion in February 2009, a decline of a little more than 30 percent over February 2008 when sales reached 20.3 billion. It also represents a 7.6 percent drop from one month ago when sales were $15.3 billion in January.
Scalise warned that sales are expected to keep falling "well below 2008 levels" for the foreseeable future.