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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cypress and Spansion in $4bn merger

By Nick Flaherty

Blimey! Cypress and Spansion are to merge in a $4bn deal that will change the landscape of the embedded market and potentially mark more consolidation. The key area for this deal is of course memory - Spansion was the spin off of AMD's flash memory business, while Cypress started out making SRAMs and has since moved into other controller-based devices. 
As a result the combined company will have annual turnover of $2bn and be the leader in SRAM and in NOR flash, and be a major player in microcontrollers - Cypress is well established in ARM-based microcontroller designs alongside its PSoC capacitative touch screen controller, while Spansion has recently been adding ARM cores to its memory devices. 
Although the deal is pitched as 50/50 - which is itself often a problem for deciding the direction going forward - it actually looks like a Cypress takeover.  Cypress founder and long term CEO TJ Rodgers will be CEO of the merged company while Ray Bingham of Spansion will be non-executive chairman and the company will be called - wait for it - Cypress Semiconductor. 
“This merger represents the combination of two smart, profitable, passionately entrepreneurial companies that are No. 1 in their respective memory markets and have successfully diversified into embedded processing,” said Rodgers, Cypress’s founding president and CEO. “Our combined company will be a leading provider of embedded MCUs and specialized memories. We will also have extraordinary opportunities for EPS accretion due to the synergy in virtually every area of our enterprises.”
The merger is expected to achieve more than $135 million in cost synergies on an annualized basis within three years and to be accretive to non-GAAP earnings within the first full year after the transaction closes. The combined company will continue to pay $0.11 per share in quarterly dividends to shareholders.
“Bringing together these high-performing organizations creates operating efficiencies and economies of scale, and will deliver maximum value for our shareholders, new opportunities for employees and an improved experience for our customers,” said John Kispert, CEO of Spansion. “With unparalleled expertise, global reach in markets like Japan and market-leading products for automotive, IoT, industrial and communications markets, the new company is well positioned to deliver best-of-breed solutions and execute on our long-term vision of adding value through embedded system-on-chip solutions.”
The closing of the transaction is subject to customary conditions, including approval by Cypress and Spansion stockholders and review by regulators in the U.S., Germany and China. The transaction has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies. Cypress and Spansion expect the deal to close in the first half of 2015. 

What other consolidation will happen remains to be seen but memory companies particularly will be vulnerable - the most notable recent deal was Global Foundries being paid to take on IBM's semiconductor business. I expect to see some other 'mergers' based around the Internet of Things as companies position themselves for growth i the next few years.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fake Chip Furor Challenges Counterfeiters

Fake Chip Furor Challenges Counterfeiters | EE Times:

By Nick Flaherty

Glasgow-based USB chip designer FTDI is facing a storm of criticism after a new driver was released for its FT232R USB-to-UART bridge chip, but the problem was not with FTDI's chip.

Instead it was with counterfeit devices that people had bought over the Internet thinking they were genuine FTDI parts. The driver did not work with fake chips, effectively "bricking" people's USB interfaces, and highlighting the problem that many embedded chip maker face with counterfeit parts.  

FTDI has responded well. "We have temporarily suspended the driver from being downloaded. We will investigate what is happening in the current driver and, in the fullness of time, reinstate the driver download, and if there's something we need to alter in the driver, we will do that," said Gordon Lunn, global customer engineer support manager at FTDI. 

He points out that mainstream customers haven't had a problem and that this becomes an opportunity to remove fake devices from the supply chain and replace them with genuine parts. "We want to take the positives from this and work with people that want to buy genuine parts, and we are sorry if we have inconvenienced people who thought they were buying genuine parts, and we'd like to work with people to stop it at the source," he said. "We take each case on an individual basis. If a customer is willing to work with us and help us track down the source, then perhaps we would enter negotiations on a goodwill basis. I can't rule out working with individuals. It has to be considered."

"Ultimately, we are challenging the counterfeiters," Lunn said. "We want to maintain the quality and supply chain. Our distributors all have an investment in FTDI, which we are trying to protect, and we test our parts so that we produce the best output with genuine devices."
The company doesn't want its products to be compatible with "nongenuine devices," he said. "They've not had to invest in IP or driver development. There's no marketing collateral. There's no certification test, so they save a lot of expense." However, the company has specifically said there is no "fake detection" algorithm in the driver.
There is also a potential security issue (highlighted last month at EETimes) with microcontroller-based USB devices being reprogrammed with malware. "Our understanding is we think they are microcontroller based, so they are potentially more vulnerable," Lunn said. "You can't change what a genuine device actually does."
This is also important to FTDI's brand. "The reliability of these unknown devices is also unknown, so you can't guarantee how long they will last," he said. "But people still come back and think it's the FTDI parts failing, so we have to try to weed them out if we can."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Apps move into IoT design

English: Comparison of an Overo COM and a coin
English: Comparison of an Overo COM and a coin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imagination Technologies is placing apps at the heart of its push to get the MIPS architecture adopted for the Internet of Things.

By Nick Flaherty

It is making its innovative FlowCloud technology available via an Android and iOS app to developers, including the maker community, hobbyists and students, to speed application development for the IoT. FlowCloud support will be available on several low-cost development boards with MIPS CPUs across
a range of operating systems, starting with a Microchip-based chipKIT WiFire board from Digilent.
The chipKIT WiFire board is a development platform that uses Microchip’s 32-bit PIC32MZ microcontroller with a MIPS microAptiv CPU. Imagination and partners will deploy FlowCloud support for other MIPS-based Android/Linux development boards in the near future.
The board is accessed and configured via the FlowCloud Getting Started app through an intuitive user interface that is intended to make embedded IoT development easier. A user’s FlowCloud account is free-of-charge and allows up to five connected devices.
FlowCloud provides an application-independent underlying platform that enables rapid construction and management of machine-to-machine and man-to-machine connected services through a set of modular infrastructure capabilities and underlying services that provide building blocks to accelerate deployment of cloud based applications. The infrastructure also provides secure asynchronous messaging and end-to-end connection establishment. The baseline FlowCloud service includes registration, authentication, association, security, notifications, updates and remote control. Optional plug-ins to accelerate time to market include FlowTalk (VoIP), FlowFunds (payments), and others. 
This allows users to build a wide range of applications, including security, personal and professional health monitoring, energy management, and cloud-based systems for content delivery as FlowCloud technology minimizes the resources required to make a product fully connected, bringing together people, devices and services in a platform for easily building connected applications and businesses.
“Imagination provides complete IP solutions and comprehensive platforms that speed development time for our customers, their customers and developers,” said Tony King-Smith, EVP marketing at Imagination. “FlowCloud is a unique and powerful offering for developers and the industry, and is proven and mature, having already deployed in volume. The new work we are doing with low-cost MIPS-based development boards extends the FlowCloud ecosystem and makes the platform far more accessible to developers.”
Most chipKIT platforms are hardware compatible with many existing Arduino shields, and existing code examples and reference materials are easily migrated. This gives the user a large base of options they can
utilize in the development process. The chipKIT WiFire is only available through Digilent and builds on the previous chipKIT development boards with a significant processor performance increase over the previous generation.
“Every day, more and more embedded systems are adding Internet connectivity, and the new chipKIT WiFire with our latest high-performance PIC32MZ MCU, which uses the microAptiv core, provides an ideal platform for IoT development,” said Rod Drake, director of Microchip’s MCU32 Division. “The
PIC32MZ and MPLAB Harmony software framework were designed for high-end, next-generation embedded applications that require high levels of performance, memory and advanced-peripheral integration. The addition of FlowCloud provides even more value for IoT and cloud applications.”

Users can get started with FlowCloud for the chipKIT WiFire at The chipKIT WiFire is priced at $79 (U.S.), and can be ordered today from Digilent at

From EETimes Europe
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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Startup Thalia DA uses ant algorithms to improve analogue and power designs

Bath startup Thalia Design Automation has raised its first equity funding to commercialize natural algorithms such as those used by ants for analogue, mixed signal and power design tools and is set to launch the beta versions of two new tools.
The key is that the Amalia and Emera tools use algorithms borrowed from natural processes such as ant movements to optimize placement and routing in these designs. This is traditionally regarded as a black art, needing highly skilled and scarce engineering resource, relatively long design cycles and often multiple design iterations to get to a production product, so using natural algorithms is a way to automate the design process further. Optimizations which typically took several days to weeks to complete can now be performed in a matter of hours says the company.
 “Analogue design methodology has remained unchanged for a long time,” said founder and CEO Sowmyan Rajagopalan. “I have seen the technical and time consuming efforts analogue designers have had to live with in order to design and optimise their circuits. Thalia’s tools will enable users to meet more challenging design requirements within shorter time frames. Custom chip design companies will benefit from reduced design times, shortened redesign cycles, better performing parts and more effective use of scarce skilled design resource.”
A further benefit is that the toolsets can be used to rapidly retarget existing designs to alternative silicon foundries for cost reduction and sourcing flexibility.
Thalia has now completed its initial equity funding round with Mercia Fund Management and Finance Wales. In addition the company has secured grant support from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Welsh Government.
“We are extremely pleased to have invested in a company that has developed solutions that not only address a technical challenge but also bring productivity gains for customers,” said Everard Mascarenhas, Investment Manager at Mercia Fund Management. “Thalia has developed a truly disruptive technology in a multi-billion dollar worldwide market where the incumbents grow and expand their offer through acquisition.”
Thalia provides two suites of EDA design tools; AMALIA, an intelligent analogue design optimisation & automation toolset and EMERA, a unique power device optimiser, schematic and layout generator. As well as offering these tools on a time-based software license, Thalia will also offer a design optimisation service directly and through partners.

By Nick Flaherty
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Heartbleed challenges the Internet of Things

"The Heartbleed security bug is a key example of the fundamental security challenge for the Internet of Things says Green Hills Software as it launches a new security group."

Heartbleed challenges the Internet of Things

 By Nick Flaherty

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

ARM moves to LLVM open source for future compilers

ARM is moving its future compilers to open source under the LLVM license in a fundamental shift away from proprietary technology.

ARM Compiler 6 supports the coming 64bit ARMv8 architecture and will be integrated into future versions of the DS-5 development suite for high and system on chip development. This will also become the basis of the compiler for microcontroller projects.
"The benefit for our users is greater feature velocity from open source," said Daniel Owens, product manager for software development tools at ARM. "The ARM v8 backend is in open source today as it goes into open source first, then we pull it back in for integration and testing in DS-5. V8 will be supported out of the gate and then V7A and R and that will happen by the end of this year and then following on is V7M and that's probably 2015 so Keil will stay with V7 through that time, he said.

More on this story at ARM moves to LLVM open source for future compilers - Electronics Eetimes

By Nick Flaherty

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Bristol startup slashes memory power with standard logic process

Bristol startup slashes memory power with standard logic process:

 By Nick Flaherty

A Bristol startup has developed an entirely new way of building static memory on a standard logic process that cuts the power in half without paying a penalty in area or speed.
Rob Beat (L) and Mark de Souza
Rob Beat (L) and Mark de Souza
Silicon Basis is based at the EngineShed and is developing the tools to help chip designers add memory to their devices in a way that uses less power, reduces the number of extra chips they need and gives them flexibility to move to different process technologies.
“Fundamentally memory has some real problems everyone does it the same way,” said Mark de Souza, chief executive at Silicon Basis  and formerly at memory IP supplier Virage Logic. “They all take the TSMC arrays and put them together.” These arrays are specifically designed on a particular process.
Silicon Basis sees two key advantages for its technology it can save up to 50% of the power consumption and it can go below the bit cell voltage of the foundry memories. This lower voltage allows the memories to be powered by the same voltage source as the logic and so eliminates the need for a second DC-DC converter which adds cost and complexity to a design.
This also makes the technology foundry independent and scalable to new technologies such as FinFet, says de Souza. The company has produced all the models needed and is now working on 28nm silicon to prove the implementation.”We use our own bit cell so we are not restricted to the foundry’s Vmin which is a huge advantage,” said de Souza. “Dropping the voltage makes a huge difference.”
All of this comes from a new way of looking at the design of the cell which is currently being patented. “No one has seen this way of designing SRAM before,” he said. “We are talking to the experts in memory design and no one has seen this way of putting memory together. Its all using standard rules and standard CMOS. Its an architectural difference that means we don’t need to use sense amps and because we are using logic rules we can go down to the logic voltage floor and possibly below that.”
“Our cell size is about the same as the high speed cell from the foundry,” said Rob Beat, founder and chief technology officer of Silicon Basis and designer of the new cell. “There’s a compromise on area in the array but because the periphery is more efficient we are competitive in area especially on the smaller RAMs.”
The architecture brings advantages with the compiler that are not to be underestimated, he says. “Our single port compiler also outputs a one port register file,” he said. “Because of the way the bit cell is designed we can use the same bit cell for dual port so the dual port compiler will do the dual port register file and asynchronous dual port memory.” This avoids the problems of having up to five different compilers for each process technology with a significant support burden
The technology has been developed for the TSMC 40nm node and outperforms the high speed bit cell, says de Souza. “This took us a little bit by surprise as we didnt design for speed,” he said. “We did a lot of work at 40nm but what we are seeing from customers is that 28nm HPM is going to be a major node and we think there will be more new designs starting on 28nm than on 40nm.”
The technology is also fully compatible with FinFet vertical structures being used in TSMCs 16nm process node. “Our technology will work very nicely with FinFet right out of the box,” he said. 
The technology has previously been used by Beat to develop low power FPGA fabric but has attracted more interest for the SRAM compiler. “For me, Silicon Basis starts here,” said de Souza.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New 32bit architecture takes on ARM in home automation

New 32bit architecture takes on ARM in home automation

The FT32 core was developed for the FT900 family of controllers and at 2.93 MIPS/MHz FTDI claims this provides higher performance and ARM's A8 and A9 cores.
The RISC architecture provides true zero wait state operation up to 100MHz and supports 256k Flash with 256k Shadow RAM and 64k Data RAM. The FT900 chip also includes 10/100 Ethernet, two CAN 2.0 controllers, USB2.0 Hi-Speed support, SD host controller, parallel camera interface, IS master / slave interface, 10 bit DAC (2) and 10 bit ADC, integrated hardware debugger and USB DFU boot-loader.

"We saw an opportunity to do not just a microcontroller for performance but one that had the right connectivity for the markets that we see developing," said Dave Sroka, global product director at FTDI. The company has a range of USB interfaces based around an 8051 core and last year launched its FT800 EVE video processor.

By Nick Flaherty

Ada comes to ARM Linux

Ada comes to ARM Linux 

AdaCore has developed a cross-development environment for the latest 2012 version of the Ada language for ARM processors running Linux. 
GNAT Pro 7.2 provides a complete Ada development environment oriented towards embedded systems that require the flexibility and services provided by Linux. Developers of such systems can now exploit the software engineering benefits of the Ada language, including reliability, maintainability, and portability.

By Nick Flaherty

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Apple extends deal for Imagination video and graphics cores

Imagination Technology is relaxed about ARM as Apple extends its multi-year agreement to use its graphics and video cores.
The deal gives Apple access to Imagination's wide range of current and future PowerVR graphics and video IP cores that sit alongside the ARM processor cores. ARM this week also revealed it now owns nearly 500 patents covering the MIPS technology that Imagination acquired last year.
"This deal is very important," said John Metcalfe, chief operating officer of Imagination. "Clearly we have had tremendous success with Apple with multiple generations of their devices and we feel its very significant that they have extended the current agreement. This is a multi-year agreement across multiple IP, both existing and future IP."
Under the terms of the above licensing arrangement, Imagination will receive on-going license fees, and royalty revenues on shipment of SoCs (Systems on Chip) incorporating Imagination's IP.
With the acquisition of the MIPS processor cores last year Imagination is now a major competitor to ARM, whose cores are also used in Apple designs. "What we do as a matter of course is offer our customers a range of bus interfaces, whether that an internal bus, AXI or OCP," said Metcalfe. "Many people will look to AXI as the hardware interface and we support all our licensees with the interfaces to MIPS, Intel or ARM. ON the software side we deliver device drivers to our licensees that are targeting these three processor families."
This week it emerged that ARM has acquired 498 patents from the MIPS acquisition. "There was nothing too surprising in the ARM results this week except the write off on the patent pool," said Metcalfe. "We think its neutral. Obviously that was one of the key areas to assure ourselves of when we acquired MIPS that we had the freedom to develop the architecture without being bound by legacy patents."

Related stories:
ARM tops $1bn

Apple extends deal for Imagination IP  By Nick Flaherty

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

ARM tops $1bn - analysis

If you thought ARM had exhausted most of the potential licensees for its processor cores, think again - with revenues over $1bn, over $1bn cash to hand and a pool of 3,500 patents, the company is continuing to sign up new companies.
The company saw revenues of over $1bn for the first time, up 22% on last year, with 121 new licensees.
Over half the 22 companies that signed licenses with ARM in the last quarter were new customers, with 15 taking the Cortex-M embedded cores. ARM has now signed more than 200 Cortex‐M licences with over 150 companies, making it the largest product line in the company with 30% of unit shipments. Half of the 10bn devices shipped last year were outside of its traditional mobile market as microcontrollers and the Internet of Things starts to take off and its high end smartphone business slows. Embedded now makes up 32% of the business, compared to 46% for mobile.
The fallout from the splitting up of MIPS Technologies last year is also apparent.
AMR has bought the MIPS pool of 498 patents for $4m from the Bridge Crossing consortium, creating a library of 3,500 patents. ARM had originally paid $167m to form the consortium with Allied Security Trust to license the patents to third parties but the consortium decided not to go ahead with that licensing. ARM is now taking a £59.5m charge as a result. Imagination Technologies acquired the remaining 80 patents relating directly to the MIPS processors.

ARM tops $1bn By Nick Flaherty

Five lessons from Lenovo’s Motorola deal

Lenovo’s $2.9bn acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google highlights some key lessons in the industry:
  1. Manufacturing still matters
  2. The consumer market is not enough for smartphones
  3. Watch out Nes
  4. Partners are as important as patents 
  5. Google is an information company
See the Five lessons from Lenovo’s Motorola deal 

By Nick Flaherty

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TI claims industry's fastest 16bit DAC

Texas Instruments has unveiled the industry’s fastest 16-bit digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) running at 2.5Gsamples per second with a four channel version providing 2GHz of information bandwidth for basestation and signal processing applications.

The DAC38J84 and DAC38J82 provide the bandwidth, performance, small footprint and low power consumption needed for multi-mode 2G/3G/4G cellular base stations to migrate to more advanced technologies, such as LTE-Advanced and carrier aggregation on multiple antennas. The DACs support up to 2 GHz of information bandwidth for wideband power amplifier digital pre-distortion, millimeter wave backhaul infrastructure, signal jamming, radar and test equipment.

more at TI claims industry's fastest 16bit DAC  By Nick Flaherty

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Tool debugs deeply embedded multicore SoC devices

Debugging multicore devices in deeply embedded systems is a key problem for designers. PLS Programmierbare Logik & Systeme has launched the latest version of its Universal Debug Engine (UDE) 4.2 with enhanced control and test methods for a wide range of 32bit multicore System on Chip (SoC) targets and optimized visualisation options during system level testing.

Individual cores can be specifically selected and also synchronized for control by the debugger. This also includes the extensive use of existing on-chip trigger and synchronization options of various device manufacturers. With the UDE 4.2, the consistent user interface ensures the greatest possible flexibility when controlling a multicore target, without the need to know the underlying on-chip logic in detail.
The trace framework of the Universal Debug Engine 4.2 has also been equipped with numerous new features. For example, relocation of the data processing in a separate process not only increases the speed of the evaluation, but also allows persistent storage of trace sessions for analysis at a later time without direct access to the target. Furthermore, comprehensive filters and the possibility to individually color recorded events of various trace sources simplify a clear presentation of the results.
An enhancement of the proven Universal Emulation Configurator (UEC) of the Universal Debug Engine (UDE) ensures an even more efficient use of the emulation devices offered by Infineon, Freescale and STMicroelectronics for some SoCs. Programming of the additional trigger logic contained on the emulation devices is performed by a graphical configuration of trace tasks, by which signals and actions are linked via a state machine.

See more at Tool debugs deeply embedded multicore system-on-chip devices By Nick Flaherty

Ultrasonics slash cost of gas sensors

Ultrasonics slash cost of gas sensors:  A gas sensor using ultrasonic measurements is set to slash the cost of medical monitoring.

The new ultrasonic sensor uses patent-pending technology developed by TTP in Cambridge to precisely measure the speed of sound in a gas to determine its composition. While current infrared gas sensing devices for carbon dioxide can cost over £240 and paramagnetic systems for oxygen around £120, TTP believes that its new SonicSense devices will cost between £3 and £6 each in volume production. Potential medical applications include respiratory monitoring, anaesthesia and heart monitoring.

By Nick Flaherty
Related Ultrasonic stories:

Ultrasound array provides touch feedback in mid-air
Oxford spin-out raises £2.7m for ultrasound-based cancer treatment
3D ultrasonic camera for non-destructive testing of aircraft
Non-invasive ultrasonic sensors allow continuous liquid level monitoring
Wolfson to use bat-like sonar for gesture recognition

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Five technology trends for 2014

Five technology trends for 2014: National Instruments is highlighting five key trends for engineers in 2014, from control systems to RF and user interfaces:

By Nick Flaherty

Related stories:

Interesting wearable applications to watch or in the making
Global video surveillance booming in 2014 with more analytical solutions
Emerging technology in LED lighting to shape the outlook for 2014

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

UK tech sector records best growth performance for almost a decade

UK tech sector records best growth performance for almost a decade: The UK tech sector has seen its best performance in almost a decade according to a new report from KPMG/Markit Tech Monitor.

By Nick Flaherty

Peer-to-peer database gives smart data discovery for embedded systems and devices

Peer-to-peer database gives smart data discovery for embedded systems and devices - Electronics Eetimes:

ITTIA has introduced version 6.0 of its flagship database software, ITTIA DB SQL, which brings new intelligence to data management on embedded systems and devices with true peer-to-peer replication.

By Nick Flaherty