This week, we have a lot of general industry news pertaining to the supply and manufacturing of semiconductors. There’s news on how the drought in Taiwan is affecting chipmakers, Europe looking to establish a certain amount of semiconductor self-reliance, and some discussion on interconnects limiting chip scaling.
With all the bad news lately -- not just in tech, but in general -- we wanted to open on a positive note here. Any of you who’ve been watching us for a while now know that we work with a few charity organizations every year, often in the form of charity auctions or limited shirts where the revenue goes toward them. We often work with a local no-kill cat shelter that we’ve personally visited (called Cat Angels), Eden Reforestation Projects, Adelaide Koala & Wildlife Hospital (around $20K donated from the shirt drive after the bushfires!), and a couple of others.
Cat Angels is by far the smallest out of all the charities we’ve worked with and they sent us some photos and an update this week. They’re in a hole-in-the-wall shopping center with volunteer staff so that all the money goes toward caring for, rescuing, and adopting-out rescued cats and kittens. GN and its community raised a lot of money for all these groups last year, but the impact is disproportionately huge for Cat Angels. They emailed us out of the blue this week to tell us that some of our viewers have visited to adopt cats and kittens and that they’ve received donations from all over the world since we started working with them for our Cat-themed PC build for the shelter in 2019. Cat Angels was telling us that they always know when the donations are from our community because they’re not just local. They said the following:
“Hi Stephen, I just wanted to check in after the holidays and send very special thanks to you and your community. Because GamersNexus community members have sent us so many gifts AND have been applying to adopt from us, we have been able to rescue and adopt out more kitties recently. Here is an update on a few. We are incredibly grateful for your support. Even your smallest mentions garner a huge impact on Cat Angels.”
We’ll put the rest of the email up on the screen in the video in case you want to pause and read it. It’s some wholesome news that this community can be proud of, in between all the bickering about which GPU vendor is the most evil at any given time.
04:12 | AMD RX 6700 XT Official Announcement Announced
AMD’s RX 6700 XT GPU announcement was officially announced by AMD’s Radeon twitter page, marking March 3rd as the launch date for the card. The 6700 XT will be the fourth installation into the RX 6000 lineup, preceded most recently by the RX 6900 XT at $1000, then the 6800 XT at $700 and RX 6800 at $570. The RX 6700 XT shown had a revised dual-axial reference design that will supposedly exist, although AMD has occasionally created renders for partner-only launches. Regardless, the render will continue to exist for as long as Nintendo doesn’t know about it.
The RX 6700 XT announcement announcement said the card will be revealed at 11AM Eastern on March 3rd, but “reveal” and “launch” are different -- it’s likely the launch will be later.
This next topic is more of a YouTube platform issue, but it affects someone in our community. Hardware Unboxed recently posted on its community page about a shadowban that YouTube has put in place as a result of “suspicious activity.” The Hardware Unboxed YouTube Community page has the full details, but we spoke with Steve and Tim and are also in contact with our own YouTube rep to try and help with this issue. Since Hardware Unboxed is limited in its ability to reach its own audience right now, we wanted to bring some light to this issue and try to reach their audience on their behalf.
If you’re not aware of what’s going on, HUB’s videos are (at time of filming) not visible on the YouTube search results page, in notifications, or in the recommended feed, and is only available directly via the videos page. This also happened right when Steve from HUB tried to take a vacation, so we personally feel for how stressful this must be and how it’s ruining his break. He’ll need another vacation after this one.
HUB said that this is a YT protection mechanism to try and protect the channel from “suspicious activity.” HUB has noted that it has confidence in its account security and has asked YouTube for specifics on the “suspicious activity” so that it can investigate further, but YouTube has thus far been slow and unhelpful in its correspondence. We’ve seen some lunatics on reddit jumping to some really crazy conspiracy theories, and just to be clear, this is almost certainly a matter of an automated YouTube process doing what it thinks is right. We’ve been on the receiving end of that as well. The problem isn’t that it happened, because this is actually a good and valuable protection mechanism (and a better alternative than being shut-down entirely), but the real problem is that YouTube has such slow and generally unhelpful support for creators. It always seems like no one knows what’s going on at YouTube, probably because of how big the company is and how much of it is automated.
Rest assured that HUB’s team seems to be in contact with the right people and that they have others in the tech creator community looking out for them. This is very much a “who’s next?” situation and is exactly the kind of thing we are here to help with. It looks like they’re holding publication on videos until this is resolved, as almost no one will see them. This has nuked channel performance, as expected, and is a terrifying reminder of what it’s like to live on someone else’s platform. For us, it’s meant a wakeup call that we really need to find the time to spec-out and fix our old website to get it operational again. It’s funny, too, because one of the reddit comments was exactly about how this type of action on large platforms would encourage a 90s-era re-boom in internet publishing. I guess we can throw this out there while we’re at it: We’re not ready yet, but if you’re a particularly talented web developer who would be able to get our charts working in a non-PNG format in articles, we’d love to talk to you. We might not reply to all inquiries and will apologize in advance.
In the meantime, be sure to check HUB’s twitter feed and YT Community page for updates.
Taiwan has been facing a unique climate crisis, in which the island has seen a great reduction in both typhoons and annual rainfall. Like the weather in Texas that shut down semiconductor plans two weeks ago, this is influencing silicon production in Taiwan. For the first time in more than half of a century, not a single typhoon landed on Taiwan in 2020.
Taiwan’s water levels in several reservoirs are at or below 20%, and the government has requested that companies reduce water usage by 7% to 11%. As Taiwan implements greater water restrictions, foundries like TSMC and UMC are trucking in water to fabs on the island. According to Reuters, chipmakers based in Taiwan (TSMC, UMC, VIS) have been able to stave-off reductions in production by importing water.
Foundries typically recycle and reuse a great portion of their wastewater and Taiwan has particularly strict environmental laws. We showed some of this in our factory tours in Taipei. An extended water shortage could certainly intensify an already pervasive global semiconductor shortage.
HP Inc has announced that it has agreed to acquire HyperX, Kingston Technology’s gaming brand. HP will buy HyperX from Kingston for $425 million, with an expected closing date landing sometime in Q2’2021, pending regulatory approval. The caveat, however, is that HP is only acquiring HyperX peripherals; Kingston will retain the HyperX NAND Flash and DRAM segment.
The press release is somewhat sparse on how the deal will play out, but presumably HyperX will exist alongside HP’s Omen line, rather than be folded into it.
Kingston spawned the HyperX brand way back in 2002, with its inaugural memory tester and DDR-400 modules. The company has expanded that brand into headsets, microphones, keyboards, mice, console accessories, and more. HP will use the brand to gain a better foothold in the ever growing gaming market, assuming it doesn’t consume and digest the brand altogether.
After nearly 36 years, it seems Fry’s Electronics is closing the doors. Fry’s opened for business back in 1985, and at one time, was considered to be the premiere destination for PC building, electronics, and gadget enthusiasts.
Reports flooded the internet that the company was shuttering, and that Fry’s website would soon be taken offline. Not long after, users started noticing 504 errors when visiting Fry's website, and it didn’t take long for Fry’s to officially confirm the news.
“After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders,” the company said.
To be clear, there’s never been a better time to be an electronics retailer -- so this has been a long time coming and isn’t just because of the past year. Bitwit Kyle did a video in January of 2020 where he showed how barren Fry’s had become.
This comes after many customers have been posting images of barren store shelves at their local Fry’s location, indicating that the writing was on the wall. For several years, Fry’s has struggled in a market dominated by e-commerce giants like Amazon and Newegg, even forcing the company to pivot to a consignment model to try and stay afloat. A former Fry’s employee told The Verge that Samsung stopped doing business with Fry’s over outstanding bills.
Fry’s was known for its themed stores across the nation -- like its western/cowboy-inspired theme in Palo Alto or the Egyptian-themed store in Campell. The one we used to visit in Austin was a great time killer, but maybe that’s why they’re going out of business.
By the time 3dfx reached the Voodoo 5 line, it was facing extreme pressure from competing GPUs that offered better performance at the same price, such as Nvidia’s GeForce 2 line and ATI’s Radeon R100 GPUs. The Voodoo 5 6000 was meant as something of a last ditch effort to recapture the performance crown, and early testing showed the GPU had potential.
The Voodoo 5 6000 wasn’t a cheap or simple card to produce and sell. The Voodoo 5 6000 was based on the 3dfx VSA-100 chip, and the main principle of these chips was scalability -- VSA was literally an abbreviation for Voodoo Scalable Architecture. The idea was that multiple VSA-100 chips would work in parallel on a single board, and the pixel fill rate would increase in a commensurate way. The Voodoo 4 4500 used one VSA-100, while the Voodoo 5 5000/5500 used two VSA-100 chips; the Voodoo 5 6000 would use four VSA-100 chips.
Packing four separate dies onto a single board meant the PCB for the Voodoo 5 6000 was very complicated for the year 2000. The card itself also far exceeded what an AGP slot could power, so the cards required a separate and supplemental power supply (branded as Voodoo Volts). All this is to say that due to prohibitive costs coupled with 3dfx’s financial woes, the Voodoo 5 6000 never made it to market. 3dfx produced around 1000 units, and they’re increasingly hard and expensive to find.
However, a modder and enthusiast has apparently reverse engineered the Voodoo 5 6000 and produced a rather faithful recreation of the GPU. The reincarnated Voodoo 5 6000 features four VSA-100 chips, which can still be bought today for around $20. The reimagined Voodoo 5 6000 also uses 16 8MB SDRAM modules, for a total of 128MB of VRAM (32MB per VSA-100), per the original specifications.
The modified Voodoo 5 6000 does offer a few more modern features, such as a custom black PCB and 4-pin molex power on the board itself, so an external power supply isn’t needed.
20:36 | Europe Is Looking Towards Semiconductor Independence
Much like America and China, Europe is looking to establish a certain amount of sovereignty as it relates to semiconductors. Like other parts of the world, Europe relies heavily on Taiwan for the supply of chips that it uses for various enterprises, like 5G and automotive. According to reports by Bloomberg, the European Union is mulling the idea of building a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Europe, and the project could involve TSMC and Samsung.
By bringing more domestic production online and building out local supply chains, Europe could wean itself off of the US and Asia for supply, as well drastically increase its contribution to the global supply of chips and semiconductors. Currently, Europe accounts for less than 10% of global chip production, including GlobalFoundries fabs in Germany, but it hopes to eventually produce at least 20% of the world’s semiconductors.
Currently, the EU is investigating avenues in which it could produce chips built between 10nm and 3nm, and possibly down to 2nm. This comes as the world is grappling with a global chip shortage, and that ripple effect has extended to the automotive industry, in which Europe is heavily invested. As Bloomberg reports, Volkswagen recently lost tens of thousands of vehicles that were in production due to chip supply constraints.
22:15 | Report: New Interconnect Technology Needed To Scale Beyond 3nm
An interesting report from SemiconductorEngineering explores interconnect and packaging technology, particularly about how interconnects are a significant limiter on transistor scaling.
The report outlines how problems with interconnects began at the 20nm and 16/14nm process nodes for advanced chips. The problem lies within the copper used for interconnects. As transistors shrink, the copper vias that serve as interconnects also have to shrink. As copper gets smaller, the amount of current that can be pushed through it gets smaller as the resistance increases.
According to the report, manufacturers have succeeded in scaling interconnects to 7nm and even 5nm, but it’s becoming exponentially more challenging with each node migration.
“With successive generations, these local interconnects have become both narrower and closer together to the point where the incumbent copper interconnects are facing significant challenges to further scaling. For example, further decreases to the line width or height would dramatically increase the electrical resistance of the line,” says Nerissa Draeger, director of university engagements at Lam Research.
Currently, the copper dual damascene process is the standard for chipmakers, and it seems the technology will get chipmakers down to 3nm. However, for 2nm and beyond, a new interconnect technology and process will be needed to maintain transistor scaling. Semiconductor Engineering lists a few of the most promising methods currently in R&D:
“Hybrid metallization or pre-fill. This combines different damascene processes with new materials to enable smaller interconnects with less delay.
Semi-damascene. A more radical approach using subtractive etch, enabling tiny interconnects.
Supervias, graphene interconnects and other technologies. These are all in R&D as the industry continues to look for a replacement metal for copper.”
All of the above methods come with their own assortment of challenges, and chipmakers will look to preserve the life of copper dual damascene for as long as possible. Additionally, advanced packaging techniques are also actively being explored to help continue pushing the development of advanced chips.
Rounding out the news is a couple of smaller hardware items: a new server from Gigabyte, and a new 18TB HDD from Toshiba.
Starting with Gigabyte, the company announced its new G262-ZR0 2U rack server. The most notable aspect of the G262-ZR0 is that it’s among the first servers to incorporate Nvidia’s HGX A100 GPU, and the server can be configured with up to four of them. Elsewhere, the G262-ZR0 uses two AMD Epyc 7002-series CPUs, and can be outfitted with up to 4TB of DDR4-3200MHz via the 16 DIMM slots. Gigabyte states that the G262-ZR0 is aimed at HPC, AI, and data analytics. Gigabyte did not disclose pricing or availability.
Moving on, Toshiba announced its first HDD that makes use of energy-assisted magnetic recording. Specifically, Toshiba is using Flux Control – Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording (FC-MAMR). As areal density and capacity increase, bit area decreases and the bits become unstable and incapable of maintaining or changing their magnetic polarity with PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording).
As such, HDD makers are moving onto other recording mediums, such as MAMR, while also developing HAMR (heat assisted magnetic recording). Toshiba’s 18TB MG09 uses nine helium sealed platters, and 18 read/write heads that use microwaves to alter the disk’s magnetic polarity before writing data. The 18TB MG09 is aimed at cloud-scale and data center applications, and is expected to be sampled to select customers by the end of March 2021.