Seeking Alpha

H. Bruce Campbell

View H. Bruce Campbell's Comments BY TICKER:
  • VirnetX / Apple Appeal: Bad News For VirnetX And Other Patent Assertion Entities [View article]
    Security's clearly critical in information technology. IT firms demonstrate it overtly by incorporating highly robust and technically excellent security features in nearly every IT device. The market demanded it in every quarter, and firms responded with billions in technology development, implementation, and service investments. And IT firms continue to do so, and will as far into the future as we can see in a cat and mouse game with the unsavory side of mankind's nature.

    The market - we users - willingly pay a massive price too in personal overhead. We tolerate the inevitable high personal costs of security features which force us to manage a labyrinth of Rube Goldberg like barriers just to set up and use our own systems and their cloud companions - an often severely time wasting array of hurdles which we survive only by occasionally emitting foul language to release some of the frustrations they impose. Yet we do tolerate them - there's no significant market push-back for less security so as to relieve some of its accompanying inefficiencies and frustrations.

    There's enormous market pressure for more advanced security systems which impose less overhead and frustration, and great fortunes to be made by technology epiphanies which make them possible. No credible people are claiming fingerprint sensors are a useless fad or waste of human energy for example, and Apple's smart to be among those on the forefront of incorporating this technology. Any security related advancement which imposes significantly less overhead or more complete security, or both, is a high level technology and business treasure. Firms wouldn't fight over them like gladiators if they weren't. And the pressure for ever better security systems won't end with any new advancement - it will march on essentially forever.

    I'm far too ignorant of most other VHC factors to form views about the firm as an investment, including lack of study of the patent validity issues.

    Mike Farmwald's contribution here spawned some superbly informative debate. But a few discussion comments seem to suggest security technology's of only modest value when in fact it's critical to IT. And the money and user overhead devoted to develop and support it demonstrates this beyond rational question. Any suggestion or argument to the contrary is in my view either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. But the notion does seem to lurk in some quarters or between some lines. A wise investor should discount any such notion - it's nonsense.

    In my view any judge who fails to recognize the critical nature and sheer magnitude of security technology endangers the cause of wisely rendered justice. So I hope any judge involved cultivates a very clear understanding of the full role of security technology - if VHC's patents are valid, I hope their value will be measured with fully enlightened wisdom. And I suspect they will.

    (Positions: I hold no current position in VHC, but traded in and out last year, short term, mostly in ignorance, earning a modest profit. I may or may not become involved again, but if so only in long positions. I hold substantial long term long positions in VRNG and VRNGW, but I view Vringo as a significantly different situation. I also hold a modest long term long position in WDDD, but know very little about it - it's just an ill informed roll of minor sized dice. The vast majority of my IT time is with Apple products, but currently I hold no Apple investment position. But I have in the past, and might again in the future.)

    Oshaberi sumimasen...
    Mar 8 12:39 AM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Intel And Apple: An Interesting Tidbit [View article]
    Seculating in a vacuum:

    To me TSV is the lingering elephant in the room. Hypothetically, if TSV's matured enough to be very high yield, cheap, tiny, and supported by existing fab infrastructure, then at some point a meeting took place at Intel, and a similar one at Samsung, wherein someone said, "You know, we can allocate functions to separate die now to substantially reduce individual die size and thus dramatically improve yields, and thus slash cost, with precious little or no loss in performance. We can just stack the die now. The handcuffs are finally off."

    If TSV can be efficiently fabricated now (I don't know whether that's true), then that meeting simply had to have taken place at Intel and Samsung. And Apple and TSMC and anyone else who's paying close attention has to be aware of the situation.

    The finished product OEMs live or die on customer price and margins of course. And Apple and Samsung are in a long and very bloody battle to the death for the phone and tablet markets. All else being very roughly equal, the one with the lowest prices and highest margins will ultimately prevail. TSV enabled small die could be a mighty powerful tool in that struggle...

    It's very hard to judge, but I suspect Apple and Intel are capable of protecting a big secret (as they did years ago when Apple switched from the G series processors to X86). And I like to think Apple's still pretty bright.

    If all that speculation's about right, and on the assumption that Apple will never pump money up Samsung's skirt again, and on the further assumption that Apple saw the TSV future reasonably early, then either TSMC has secretly mastered TSV fabrication, or Russ is right - their deal is with Intel.

    But my view is based upon a conviction that TSV, if it can be efficiently fabricated, is a dramatic game changer.

    Imagine that you and your family, extremely impatient and irritable by nature, but terrified of flying, decide to take your subcompact car on a rode trip from Miami to Seattle. Horrific grueling suffering lies ahead... But fortunately you have the sympathy of some mighty capable and very playful extraterrestrials who seek to test a new toy their species recently developed. It's capable of extracting a section of Earth's crust about a kilo thick and stacking it, fully intact, on top of another section (leaving a little space between for tall geography or buildings, and for air to circulate). So just for grins, and to make your trip much easier, they extract all the American states, then stack them, with Alaska on the bottom, and Rhode Island on the top. And they install lots and lots of pillars between them to support the stack. And each pillar (TSV) is equipped with a few speedy car sized elevators. These are very playful aliens...

    Now you can drive from Miami to Seattle in about an hour. Maybe just 45 minutes. That sure beats 60 hours... And a lot of gas money is saved to boot.

    That's TSV. It changes everything. If it's efficient to fab.

    But I'm speculating in a vacuum - I simply don't know how efficient fabrication of TSV is at this time. It seems odd to me that there's so little chatter about it, suggesting that it's just not efficient enough to fab for prime time yet. Or that everyone knows how big a game changer it is, and thus won't breathe a word about where their firm stands with it until a shipped product tear down reveals it.

    Because of the strong partnership between Intel and Micron, I suspect they're more TSV capable than anyone. I also suspect Intel wants the Apple fab business enough to more than offset discomfort with fabricating ARM based processors, though that's a mighty tough call.

    But hypothetically, Apple might want Intel too, partly because it's not just the CPU and GPU at play of course, but also DRAM. Intel and Micron might be able to efficiently stack the mobile DRAM together with the other die relatively soon too.

    Samsung seems like the only other player who might be able to do that relatively near term. I doubt they're as close to that capability as Intel / Micron, but they're a bloody quick study - they'll probably get there in rather short order.

    In my estimation Apple would very highly prefer to get there first. And Intel / Micron seem to me like their only practical option to achieve that...

    But I'm speculating in a vacuum. And I make many mistakes...

    Intensely long Micron common and calls, modestly long Intel and ChipMOS common and calls.
    Sep 16 08:51 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Intel: OK, Where Are The Apple 'A' Chips Really Going? [View article]
    "And me too of course!" That is, I'd love to hear from you about it too!

    TSV Enabled opportunities seem very exciting to me in general terms. But I don't have any direct monolithic design, fabrication, capex, nor other work experience with such firms. So I could very well miss critical technical problems (though I'm very skeptical that the oft repeated thermal management issue is a genuinely significant hurdle), and I might badly misjudge financial and corporate logistics issues.

    You bring direct experience, analytical skill, and your popular personality to the table, filling in a great many important blanks which I can only vaguely guess about. Almost everyone here has skin in this game, and in my estimation many would like to further explore how TSV might leverage their skin into more skin.

    And I'll bet you've already got a couple of ideas about how to make it clear in the article that it's not just about technology, but skin too...

    May Seeking Alpha judge wisely...
    Jul 17 04:51 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Intel: OK, Where Are The Apple 'A' Chips Really Going? [View article]
    Hi Russ,

    No formality necessary for me - Bruce please. And "That was very well done." from Russ Fischer is a very highly prized trophy on my wall, thank you!

    A wall built in substantial measure by funds your experience, insight, exploratory heart, tireless energy, and community team spirit made possible. Again, thank you!

    The profits are very helpful of course. But ultimately the trophy holds the greatest meaning for me.

    Given the unique position Intel and Micron forged together for leveraging this important new technology, and its inherent and very substantial business implications, perhaps Seeking Alpha would approve such an article - maybe they'd perceive that it's intrinsically investment relevant. They certainly should. I'm sure the community here would love to hear from you about it. And me too of course!
    Jul 17 11:26 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Intel: OK, Where Are The Apple 'A' Chips Really Going? [View article]
    Just speculating wildly of course:

    Apple strikes me as either possessing a terrific secret rapport and loose partnership with Intel as Apple executes a terrific secret long term plan for a transition to Intel technology, or is simply adrift - at a loss for how to steer their corporate ship into the technical future. (Insofar as mobile products are concerned.)

    Intel possesses a superb but partially coy working relationship with Micron which will enable it to leverage TSV technology to its limits. If TSV and chip stacking prove to be relatively cheap and easy to fabricate, then Intel will be (or is) in a position to reallocate functional SoC blocks plus functions previously relegated to other die, like system RAM, into a very tight knit communities of cubes, in which every cube can communicate with every other cube at very near internal die speed and power levels, or even into a single SC (System Cube).

    At this time firms try to cram as much as possible into an SoC die. That's tough at 32 and 22 nm, and perhaps bloody tough at 14 nm. TSV might remove most of the pressure to put everything into a single SoC die. For example, the GPU might be reallocated to the HMC, making it an HMGC (Hybrid Memory & GPU Cube). The GPU would then be extremely intimate with system RAM, yielding speed and power conservation performance gains. Shared cache might be shared across cubes as well, or, if RAM access speed were sufficient, reduced to very modest size, leaving little more than processor cores on the SoC die. The processor could then be fabricated on a much smaller die, perhaps dramatically improving yields at challenging process nodes such as 14 nm.

    Near die level communication speed and efficiency within and between cubes bestows a great deal of functional block allocation freedom which simply didn't exist before. And that freedom dramatically transforms fabrication logistics, opening entirely new options. Intel might be in a position to allocate functional blocks to separate die with almost no performance loss, thus allowing them far more options to optimize yields at challenging fabrication nodes.

    If TSV can be fabricated efficiently and consumes only modest die real estate, to me the implications are profound. But a partnership with a robust and technically advanced memory firm is critical. Intel possesses that with Micron of course. To me that's huge. So far as I'm aware, no other firm has anything even remotely like such a partnership except Samsung, which has both fabrication technologies in house of course.

    If Apple's not deeply involved in this, they're desperately adrift in my estimation. But Apple would be crazy to allow any hint of such a long term plan to leak to the outside world. And given their history of rather severe angst with Samsung and Google, my guess is that everyone at Apple is thoroughly wedded to a corporate culture of absolute secrecy in such matters - every soul at Apple understands the critical sensitivity of long term core technology plans as the firm tries to protect its innovations from the likes of Samsung and Google. The pressure is especially great because Samsung is in a position to wed processors with HMC if they're technically astute and forward looking enough. So no American firm wants any hint of custom developments in this area (outside the HMC Consortium) to leak to Samsung.

    And Intel knows this too, and thoroughly respects it, as does Apple respect Intel's secrets.

    For many mobile products a single SoC cube incorporating all significant functions - a mini 'Smoking Hairy Golf Ball' of sorts - a single cube of processor cores, GPU, RAM, radios, and perhaps more, might prove to be the highest performance and most die and product fabrication efficient means to implement primary silicon functionality in the product.

    TSV may become (or already is) truly efficient. I suspect that's inevitable because of the dramatic functional block reallocation options it opens, and thus the dramatic die fabrication options it opens, plus the performance gains it enables (especially in RAM access speed and efficiency) for CS's (Cube Systems).

    If Mother Nature isn't blocking this path, in my estimation Intel and Micron are pursuing it extremely aggressively. And with as much secrecy as possible. If Mother Nature is blocking this path with TSV size or fabrication hurdles which are simply too daunting, then precious little of my speculation has any merit. Otherwise it seems to me that we're looking at a cube intensive future. Which Intel and Micron seek to dominate.

    And Apple would be nuts and truly adrift to be on the outside of that evolution. And TMSC and their peers have no Micron like partnership to enable such a future. Samsung is the wild card and sole threat. And needless to say, Apple sure as blazes won't wed with them for any such future.

    That leaves Intel and Micron. To me, the writing's on the wall. Or maybe etched deeply into the wall...

    All just my personal wild speculation of course. Intensively long Micron common and calls.
    Jul 17 08:36 AM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
More on AAPL by H. Bruce Campbell