Every Little Improvement Counts
I’ve always found ISSCC to be a useful exercise. If nothing else, it puts me in my place if I ever start thinking I know a lot. ISSCC reminds you how little you know compared to the hordes surrounding you. It’s an exercise involving me desperately trying to keep the tip of my nose above water while the presenters all around me make waves.
The available topics vary widely, with some remaining consistent over the years and others coming and going. Energy Harvesting now has its own session, and I spent some time there experimenting with how well I could track the presentations.
So this is for those of you following the low-level things that are gradually making harvesters more efficient and useful. We’ll cover three specific threads: DC-DC converters, multi-source harvesters, and maximum-power-point tracking (MPPT).
Uniquify and the Bitcoin Boom
Get out your pickaxes, canaries, and a high-powered ASIC or two - we're going mining! In this week's Fish Fry, we venture deep into the Bitcoin caves with Bob Smith (VP - Uniquify). Bob and I chat about how the Bitcoin mining race is heating up (literally) and how Uniquify is using their ASIC expertise to create super-powered machines mining today's hottest (and most controversial) virtual commodity. Also this week, I unveil a new unique Amelia-alternative to the current hardware-biased Bitcoin race. I've got two words for you: Bitcoin MMORPG. So strap on your headlamps ladies and gentlemen, we're going in.
450mm Wafers are Still Some Way Away
Years ago I saw a television wildlife programme about penguins. One image that has remained in my mind was that of the hungry penguins clustering on the edge of the ice, needing to go to catch fish, but each frightened to be the first in, as there might be an equally hungry leopard seal wanting a meal of penguin. Eventually, a penguin gets pushed in by his friends. If he survives, the rest then jump in after him.
This image has always recurred to me as chip manufacturers approach the next wafer size increase. They all want to get the benefits of a larger size wafer, but they are frightened to be the first to use the new equipment that will be needed. Eventually, someone makes the leap, and then the rest pour in.
Head Out on the Highway with NXP’s LPC1500 Motor Controller
One of the definitions of an “embedded” system, as opposed to a “computer,” is, “anything that uses electronics to replace a previously mechanical device.” Programmable thermostats are embedded systems because they replace two dumb pieces of bent metal with a microcontroller and some software. Antilock brakes are embedded systems because they use MCUs instead of hydraulics to control skidding. And pretty much anything with an electric motor in it is an embedded system, because motors are all computer-controlled these days.
That presents a juicy market opportunity for the guys who make motors, and for the guys who make control-control ICs. Guys like NXP. Guys, meet LPC1500, your newest embedded motor-control microcontroller.
Calling the Action in the Greatest Semiconductor Rivalry
Hatfields vs McCoys, Coke vs Pepsi, Democrats vs Republicans, Army vs Navy, Nike vs Adidas, Microsoft vs Apple, iOS vs Android, Star Trek vs Star Wars, Deep Blue vs Kasparov, Edison vs Tesla… We love ourselves some feuds, don’t we? Any time capable competitors square off against each other and reach a standing state of equilibrium we have the ingredients for a fan-frenzied, religion-mimicking, mud-slinging, name-calling, grudge-holding feud.
In the FPGA world, that feud is Xilinx vs Altera.
This spirited rivalry has spanned the space of three decades. Like any good beef, this one transcends time and topic, and the cast of characters has changed multiple times while the battle raged on. Folks fighting on the front lines today may well have worked for the enemy last year, but that doesn’t alter their steadfast focus on the prime objective: Crush the Competition.
New Pathways and Ambiguous Terms
Those of you in the sensor world are deeply involved with the low-level nuances and intricacies of your devices. How accurate, how linear, how to connect, how to read data, how to fuse data… – there’s so much to think about if you put your mind to it.
Of course, the people you’re doing this for – users of phones and tablets and medical devices and industrial sensors – couldn’t care less about that stuff. They want to sleep soundly knowing that, by hook or by crook, those sensors are detecting their assigned phenomena accurately, and the system is correctly reading those data and munging them into whatever form is necessary to provide a simple, meaningful result at the application level.
And, in between you and that user lies, among other things, the operating system (OS). And OSes are now wise to the ways of sensors, and they’re laying down some rules of the road.