Tiny Bubbles
Posted: 03.01.05 - By Teresa von Fuchs

Although it makes sense for enterprise buyers to follow new product trends (even for consumer-oriented products), the all-new, lightweight, super-powered gadget is never the whole story. With the buzz from CES and Macworld firmly behind us this year, it’s time to focus some attention on the trends behind the hype—how notebooks and cell phones get smaller and faster every year. Or what breakthroughs are happening in the labs before the products ever hit the showroom floor.

Though Intel is the most visible name in the mobile processor space, a recent announcement by AMD and its research and design partner, IBM, suggests that new process technologies in the works could increase the competition. Craig Sander, VP of technology development at AMD, explains it like this: “From the very beginning we knew that future products needed to rest on a backbone technology that was optimized and tuned for high performance and low power.” The AMD and IBM partnership chose to use a process called silicon-on-insulator (SOI), which addressed some of the side effects that have impeded processor development progress from 130nm to 90nm processes and soon to 65nm. One issue in shrinking and revamping processors has been heat; SOI improves the heat problem. Using SOI and a process called dual stress liner, AMD and IBM have found in lab tests the new processors deliver 24 percent faster transistor speeds.

“One of the reasons it’s been so successful is because AMD and IBM have a common goal,” says Sander of the partnership. “We both need a high performance, highly manufacturable technology, coupled with the ability to work at low power.”

Another AMD partnership working toward design innovations is Spansion, a joint venture with Fujitsu. Spansion specializes in Flash technology and has made announcements about moving into the Serial Flash technologies market as well. Serial Flash supports the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) communications standard, and unlike standard Parallel Flash technology doesn’t require extra pin counts and larger footprints to increase functionality. Kumar Prabhat, division marketing manager from Spansion, explains, “What SPI offers is lower system cost and smaller footprint with a tradeoff on performance.” But many devices exist where the performance would not be an issue compared to the gains in smaller, simpler designs. Prabhat sees the move to Serial not in devices like cell phones but in optical drives, PC cards and shared parallel and serial hard drives.

As one of the largest providers of Flash memory technologies, industry analysts have stated that Spansion’s entrance into the Serial Flash market throws more weight behind the development and should encourage growth among system designers.


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