HW News - NVIDIA-Arm Acquisition Hits Snag, Intel Back in Competition, NVIDIA Controller
Posted on January 28, 2021
As we settle into 2021, hardware news continues apace. Intel has remained ever in the headlines, as CEO-elect Pat Gelsinger is set to take over, and is already bringing former Intel talent back with him. Intel also disclosed full-year earnings for 2020 and offered some clarity on the future of its process technology and manufacturing plans. Nvidia is also in the news, both with a new Pascal-based GPU and updated G-Sync Ultimate marketing language.
04:48 | Lead Nehalem CPU Architect & Scott Wasson Join Intel
Intel recently made waves as it announced that current CEO Bob Swan will be stepping down, paving the way for former Intel veteran Pat Gelsinger to take the helm of the company. In recent years, Intel has been hemorrhaging engineering talent. Most recently, Intel saw the departure of silicon engineering lead, Jim Keller, who left earlier than typical in a story we covered last week in regards to Keller’s current whereabouts. With abrupt leadership change, Gelsinger looks poised to rectify that immediately.
Keen-eyed Twitter user Dylan Martin noticed in Glenn Hinton’s post on Linkedin that he would be rejoining Intel after his three-year retirement. “After enjoying a real retirement for 3 years, I have decided to go back to work at Intel (where I previously worked for 35 years). What would entice me to do something like that? I will be working on an exciting high performance CPU project. Having Pat Gelsinger coming back as CEO also helped me finalize my decision to come back.”
Hinton was also one of the three lead architects on the formidable Nehalem CPUs, alongside Ronak Singhal and Per Hammerlund, the former of whom we’ve interviewed in the past. The Nehalem architecture was noteworthy for being the backbone to Intel’s first Core processors, starting with the 45nm ‘Bloomfield’ CPUs.
Hinton also worked on Intel’s i960 CA processor, which was one of the industry's first superscalar processors, along with AMD’s 29050 CPU.
Additionally, a few weeks ago, we found out from insiders at AMD that Tech Report & Ars Technica founder Scott Wasson has joined Intel. Scott Wasson and his work were among the earliest inspirations for GN, with some of his innovative testing including the revolution of FPS and frametime measurements. Wasson has been featured on GN several times and remains a wealth of knowledge, and will now be joining several other GN interview alumni, like Tom Petersen and Raja Kudori. Wasson most recently worked at AMD on the Radeon team. We don’t yet know exactly what Wasson will be working on at Intel, but he joins other former members of technical media, including Ryan Shrout and Allyn Malventano of PC Per. Intel is making the right hiring moves, but as always, keep in mind that silicon products take many years to start surfacing change.
09:26 | Nvidia-Arm Acquisition Facing Major Hurdles, As Expected
Last year, Nvidia and Softbank announced plans for Nvidia to acquire Arm for $40B, effectively setting the silicon industry aflame with skepticism and mixed reactions. At the time of the announcement, Nvidia and Softbank noted an expected timeline of 18 months to get the deal pushed through, which seemed to suggest that both companies were aware of the regulatory hurdles throughout global markets. Nikkei Asia reported on the deal coming to a halt recently.
As expected, the deal has come under serious scrutiny as it relates to antitrust and national security. Reports came in late last year confirming that the FTC had sent Nvidia a “second request,” by which it expects Nvidia to produce more documents and details regarding the acquisition so the FTC can build an investigation. The FTC and the US will be Nvidia’s first hurdle to clear, and it will likely set the tone for how other regulatory bodies will treat it.
According to the reporting by Nikkei Asia and Hot Hardware, the Nvidia-Arm merger will also face extreme opposition in China, where Arm owns a 49% stake in Arm China. On top of internal strife over at Arm China threatening the deal, regulatory approval will fall under China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR). As a reminder, China’s SAMR effectively derailed the Qualcomm-NXP Semiconductor merger a few years ago after it was unsatisfied over antitrust concerns. This doesn’t bode well for a potential Nvidia-Arm deal. Current tensions between the US and China are also likely to play a part.
Hermann Hauser, Arm co-founder, has outright opposed the deal. Hauser has gone as far as to launch a website (savearm.co.uk) aimed at saving Arm, where he also posted an open letter to the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. As Nikkei reports, The Competition and Markets Authority (UK antitrust watchdog) recently announced it was opening its own investigation into a potential Nvidia-Arm deal. The U.K. government will be weighing both antitrust concerns and issues of national security.
The Nvidia-Arm deal likely isn’t going to gain any traction anytime soon. Regardless of its fate, the process will likely be drawn-out and exhaustive.
12:54 | Silicon Industry Facing Packaging Shortages, TSMC on Auto
The industry is already struggling with widespread supply issues due to increased demand coupled with the pandemic impeding supply chains and logistics, and this has been further exacerbated by expired tariff exemptions. Last week, we also reported on silicon shortages causing factory shut-downs in the automotive industry, including Ford, Audi, Niassan, and other automakers.
First, regarding the automotive industry, Reuters published an exclusive report confirming that the Taiwan Ministry has stated TSMC’s priorities will shift toward the automotive industry where possible. The report indicates that TSMC’s automotive customer base accounts for approximately 3% of its sales, with the majority of its manufacturing still belonging to Apple, which alone accounted for approximately 20% of TSMC’s revenue in 2019. AMD is another large client. This still means that certain automotive products will receive priority over others, but it might not take from existing orders in the PC space -- it depends on the fab space needs of the automotive industry.
Reuters reports that: “A senior Taiwan government official familiar with the issue told Reuters there was not much they could do,” quoting its source as saying, “they dropped their orders due to various reasons when demand was low amid the pandemic. But now they want to boost their production.”
Separately, reports out of Digitimes (paywalled) are suggesting that component shortages will be additionally affected by packaging and substrate supply limitations. Digitimes states that this scarcity is expected to endure for the first half of 2021; in particular, it seems wire bonding packages and ABF (Ajinomoto Build-up Film) substrates are going to be especially hard to come by. ABF substrates use insulating film and are relevant for modern ICs. Digitimes reports that Nvidia, Intel, and AMD will all be competing for ABF substrate supply over the next few months.
Wirebond, on the other hand, is one of the many interconnect types in the packaging industry. It refers to a tiny wire bond joining a chip to a substrate or another chip. It’s one of the least complex packaging process technologies and is used for a variety of relatively simple ICs. DigiTimes is reporting that packaging vendors are increasing their lead times -- up to several months -- due to insufficient capacities.
What this means for consumers is it’s yet another factor affecting not just the stock of GPUs and CPUs, but likely laptops and displays, among other electronics.
As spotted by popular hardware sleuth momomo, Arctic is currently preparing to release its first new TIM product in years. Listings for the Arctic MX-5 TIM were spotted over at Amazon UK, and it seems Arctic’s long-lived MX-4 TIM will finally be succeeded or joined in the market. Arctic debuted its MX-4 compound in 2010 as something of an evolution of its previous MX-3 paste. Arctic’s MX-4 has since become one of the most popular pastes in the DIY space.
The listing is a bit sparse on details, as it seems to retain most of the features of the MX-series overall, such as being electrically non-conductive and lasting for up to eight years. Thermal conductivity must be measured under the same conditions in order to be comparable from one compound to another, but assuming Arctic is sticking to the same methods, its previous thermal conductivity was listed at 8.5W/mK. MX-5 isn’t yet known.
Per the Amazon UK listing, the price seems to be set at £13.59, which comes in at around $18.50 USD. Arctic’s MX-4 currently goes for around $13, so prices likely aren’t final yet.
A recent PC Gamer article linked to an NVIDIA patent whose image tells the whole story: NVIDIA’s 2019 filing points toward the inclusion of a trackball in place of the right analog stick in a controller, with the company explaining that the design would help improve speed and precision for certain types of games, drawing comparisons to a PC mouse.
The patent filing’s summary says the following:
“One aspect provides a game controller. The game controller comprises a housing; a trackball rotatably retained within the housing; a motion sensor located within the housing and configured to detect a rotation of the trackball and determine, based on the rotation, an offset value of the trackball from a reference point; a touch sensor located within the housing and configured to reset the offset value to zero when the trackball is not being physically touched by a user; and a processor located within the housing and configured to generate a simulated joystick input using the offset value.”
Filing a patent doesn’t necessarily mean a product will imminently arrive, but given NVIDIA’s interest in the game streaming ecosystem, it’s possible that there’s some internal synergy between the two IPs.
Samsung announced the newest addition in its consumer-facing SATA SSD series, the Samsung 870 Evo. The 870 Evo offers some iterative improvements over the preceding 860 Evo, and it makes use of Samsung’s newer MLC V-NAND and an unspecified Samsung controller.
Samsung usually isn’t very forthright when it comes to hard specs regarding its NAND Flash and controller designs, but we suspect the V-NAND is of the 100+ layer variety, possibly 128L. Elsewhere, the in-house designed controller is likely an improved version of Samsung’s MKX controller, as Samsung is claiming a 38% improvement in random read speed over the 860 Evo.
Samsung is listing sequential read/write speeds at 560 and 530 MB/s, respectively. For random read/write, Samsung claims speeds of 98K and 88K IOPS, respectively. Capacities range from 250GB up to 4TB, with different LPDDR4 DRAM configurations for each. As usual, the TBW rating varies and increases with capacity. The 250GB model starts with a 150TBW rating, while the 4TB model offers a rating of 2,4000TBW. All models come with a 5-year warranty.
Pricing starts at $40 for 250GB, $70 for 500GB, $130 for 1TB, $250 for 2TB, and $480 for 4TB.
As a quick update, and one that isn’t altogether surprising, Nvidia won’t be producing Founders Edition models for the RTX 3060. While the collective internet seems to be in dismay about the decision, it’s one Nvidia has made before: The GTX 960 wasn’t offered as a reference model, and Nvidia didn’t release FE models for its 16xx-series of cards.
The downsides here are that Nvidia usually offers its FE cards at MSRP, which tend to set the board in terms of pricing. Additionally, many users have seemingly been fond of Nvidia’s updated 30-series shroud and cooler.
According to Nvidia (thanks PCWorld):
“From time to time we decide not to design a Founder’s Edition card for cards targeted at the mainstream part of the market. So it’s all [partner cards] for this one,” Nvidia told PCWorld.
According to a new report, the potential for new GPU vendors has grown year-over-year, to a point where it hasn’t been in years. GPU vendor tends to be something of an ambiguous term, as not every vendor is created equally. There are vendors like AMD and Nvidia who design IP, microarchitecture, and GPUs. Then there are vendors like Arm, which deal solely in IP and licensing.
For clarity’s sake, this report includes all vendors dealing in IP, iGPUs, GPUs, etc. The report comes from Dr. Jon Peddie and highlights that the number of active GPU developers has grown from 11 to 19. This is based on new entrants to the market that announced GPU plans last year, and include Zhaoxin, Phytium Technology, and Innosilicon, among others.
The new GPU projects target everything from AI, gaming, military, IoT, and smartphones. How many of these projects will lead to products entering the market remains to be seen, and it’ll likely be 2-3 years before we know.
25:27 | Intel: Q4 and EOY Earnings, Future of Process Tech
Intel has reported its Q4 and full-year earnings for 2020, and surprise: It’s another record-breaking quarter and year for Intel. Intel’s fourth-quarter earnings came in at $20B, which was $2.6B over its previous guidance. Meanwhile, Intel’s full-year earnings for 2020 set a new record for the company, coming in at $77.9B, itself an 8% increase YoY.
Despite Intel’s internal strife with investor confidence, abrupt leadership changes, and demoralizing setbacks in its manufacturing capability, Intel’s money printer still goes brrr. Intel’s DCG, CCG, NSG, and Mobileye business segments all notched record full-year revenue. Intel’s PC-centric business soared thanks to a number of factors, and Intel notes that PC unit volume is up 33% YoY, primarily driven by record notebook sales.
Intel’s data-centric business was leaner than usual, but not quite as lean as expected and was propped up somewhat by surprisingly high Mobileye revenue. Intel’s DCG full-year revenue came in at $26.1B, which is just more than half of Intel’s CCG full-year revenue of $40.1B. This highlights how much Intel still depends on its PC-centric businesses, despite its attempts to diversify its revenue streams.
Intel notched a number of notable highlights throughout the fourth quarter, including the official production of the long-awaited 10nm Ice Lake-SP platform; volume production is currently set to ramp at some point in the first quarter of 2021. Intel also shipped its 11th-Gen Tiger Lake mobile platform, as well as announced the Rocket Lake-S family. Intel also shipped its Iris Xe Max graphics and delivered its oneAPI developer toolkit.
In the subsequent conference call, current CEO Bob Swan and CEO-elect Pat Gelsinger both sat in and fielded questions from analysts. Interestingly, both Swan and Gelsigner weighed in on the future of Intel’s process technology, as well as internal and external manufacturing plans.
Overall, Gelsinger noted that he’s given Intel’s 7nm process and roadmap a preliminary investigation and that he’s confident the majority of Intel’s 2023 roadmap will be manufactured internally. However, Gelsinger also noted that Intel would do so with increased use in external foundries. Gelsinger expects to dig deeper into Intel’s 7nm issues after he assumes CEO position next month.
Gelsinger also reiterated that Intel has been through up and down cycles before, noting that he was “involved when Intel was late to multicore, and we turned around the company and took the leadership position.” More interestingly, Gelsinger continued to reinforce the notion of bringing back technical leadership to Intel, noting Glenn Hinton’s return and suggesting that other former Intel veterans would be returning.
In relation to TSMC and Samsung, Gelsinger also stated that he was “not interested in closing the gaps, but being the unquestioned leader in process technology." Gelsinger also hopes to restore Intel’s culture to that of the Andy Grove days.
“Finally it is also a point of Intel’s culture. I trained at the feet of Grove, and we will have the Grovean attitude to execution. This will be data driven as we rebuild the company. The best days for Intel are in front of us. This is a priority for Intel, the industry, and our nation.”