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Robert Castellano
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Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president of The Information Network (, received a Ph.D. degree in solid state chemistry from Oxford University (England). He has had ten years experience in the field of wafer fabrication at AT&T Bell Laboratories and Stanford... More
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  • Intel Is Not Moving Smart Enough In The Smart Devices/IoT Market

    According to The Information Network's latest report Convergence of Semiconductors and Smart Technology - A Market Analysis, microcontrollers (MCUs) used in Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Smart Industry, Smart Health, and Smart Transport (a subset of the Internet of Things (NYSEMKT:IOT)), represented just 10% of the overall MCU market in 2014. But in 2020, $10 billion in MCUs, representing 40% of the total market, will be used in these applications.

    MCUs provide local processing capability for the "real-time" embedded processing of most Smart Technology applications. Since utilization of MCUs in the various Smart Device applications vary significantly, a scalable family of devices from a manufacturer will be required, although 8-bit MCUs will predominate.

    The MCU is part of a sensor network that is capable of performing some processing, gathering sensory information and communicating with other connected nodes in the network along with a transceiver and one or more sensors. These semiconductor devices are also analyzed in the report in terms of revenue and shipments for the period 2014 to 2020.

    In 2014, Smart Cities will represent the largest application share of MCUs at 54. As other applications gain traction, Smart Cities' share will drop to 48% of MCU consumption in 2020 while Smart Home MCU consumption will increase the greatest at a compounded annual growth rate of 35%.

    MCUs incorporated with a sensor and a wireless connectivity chip into the design of a dumb gadget turns them into smart products. For example, a toaster is just a dumb device that can only tell you if it's on or off. According to Kaivan Karimi, VP and GM of Atmel Corporation's Wireless Solutions business,

    "Design an MCU into a toaster oven with a user interface and you can control it in a more predictable and systematic manner. It now has become a "smart" toaster. Add the appropriate connectivity and you can now communicate and control that smart toaster remotely. And because these devices are sleeping most of the time, they benefit from the nonvolatile memory (FLASH) in many MCUs. When the power is off, the device's memory retains the content."

    I've compiled a list of different microcontroller architectures from different manufacturers.

    • ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) core processors (many vendors)
    • Atmel (NASDAQ:ATML) AVR (8-bit), AVR32 (32-bit), and AT91SAM (32-bit)
    • Cypress Semiconductor's (NASDAQ:CY) M8C Core used in their PSoC (Programmable System-on-Chip)
    • Freescale (NYSE:FSL) ColdFire (32-bit) and S08 (8-bit)
    • Freescale 68HC11 (8-bit)
    • Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) 8051
    • Infineon (IFX) 8-bit XC800, 16-bit XE166, 32-bit XMC4000 (ARM based Cortex M4F), 32-bit TriCore and, 32-bit Aurix Tricore Bit microcontrollers
    • MIPS
    • Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP) PIC, (8-bit PIC16, PIC18, 16-bit dsPIC33 / PIC24), (32-bit PIC32)
    • NXP Semiconductors (NASDAQ:NXPI) LPC1000, LPC2000, LPC3000, LPC4000 (32-bit), LPC900, LPC700 (8-bit)
    • Parallax Propeller
    • PowerPC ISE
    • Rabbit 2000 (8-bit)
    • Renesas Electronics RL78 16-bit MCU; RX 32-bit MCU; SuperH; V850 32-bit MCU; H8; R8C 16-bit MCU
    • Silicon Laboratories (NASDAQ:SLAB) Pipelined 8-bit 8051 Microcontrollers and mixed-signal ARM-based 32-bit microcontrollers
    • STMicroelectronics (NYSE:STM) STM8 (8-bit), ST10 (16-bit) and STM32 (32-bit)
    • Texas Instruments (NYSE:TI) MSP430 (16-bit) C2000 (32-bit)
    • Toshiba TLCS-870 (8-bit/16-bit).

    Our analysis shows that MCUs being designed into Smart Technology by most manufacturers, although most are primarily ARM based. Leading ARM licensees are Atmel, Freescale, NXP, STMicroelectronics, TI, and Toshiba. Freescale has cut back on its ColdFire in favor of ARM. Keep in mind that a microprocessor (MPU) can be used in Smart Technology and are, in fact, used instead of MCUs in compute-intensive applications. It is estimated that 15% of all Smart Devices use an MPU.

    So where is Intel in all this? Intel has dabbled in wearables (which is included in the Convergence of Semiconductors and Smart Technology - A Market Analysis report), primarily by working in collaboration with other companies that includes SMS Audio's BioSport In-Ear headphones and Opening Ceremony's MICA bracelet. Intel also acquired Basis Science, the makers of the Basis fitness band, back in March. Intel also promoted its Make It Wearable contest in 2014.

    Intel's Quark, announced in 2013, is an embedded system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor design intended for smaller mobile devices like wearable computers. The Quark processor is said to be a fifth of the size of Atom and draw a tenth of the power. Quark's core is a 32-bit x86 design based on the original Pentium chip. Like the older Pentium, it lacks some of the enhanced instruction sets, like MMX and SSE. Quark is not a replacement for Atom, as it is not as powerful a processor. It is intended for competition with ARM's Cortex M RISC-based processors, which are already found in wearable computing like Google Glass and Recon Jet and many mobile phones.

    Is Intel's product too little, too late to compete in the lucrative MCU/MPU market for Smart Technology? According to our Smart Technology report, the Smart Health sector represents only a 3.4% share of MCU consumption in 2014, growing to 4.8% in 2020. In other words, Health represents only $70 million in MCU revenues and wearables are only a subset of Health.

    In The Information Network's report Wearables - Electronics and Semiconductor Markets, the wearable market for CPUs (MCU/MPU) for Smart Clothing and Sports/Activity Monitors is analyzed. For Smart Clothing, the size of the CPU market was only $3 million in 2014. This technology was discussed in a Seeking Alpha article last week (

    The sweet spot for MCUs is in the Smart City and Smart Industry sectors, according to our report. Intel needs to enter these markets in order go establish a viable position in Smart Technology/IoT markets.

    Jan 27 8:52 AM | Link | 1 Comment
  • Western Digital Wins the Hard Disk Drive Battle for 2010

    The HDD market recorded a growth of 17.1% in unit shipments to 653.5 million units in 2010, according to a report by The Information Network The Hard Disk Drive Industry: Market Analysis and Processing Trends



    Market share of Hard Disk Drive Manufacturers


    2009 Market Share (Units)

    2010 Market Share (Units)



















     Total Units

    558.3 million

    653.5 million

    Source: The Information Network


    The market for 2010, as in 2009, was about product mix.  Western Digital (NASDAQ:WDC), which has focused on non-desktop applications, primarily the 2.5-inch form factor for mobile and CE, took over the lead in 2010 from Seagate (NASDAQ:STX), which has focused on the desktop and the enterprise markets. In 2010, mobile PCs grew 29% while desktop PCs grew only 8%.

    In the mobile HDD sector, Western Digital led the 2010 market with a 27.5% share followed by Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HIT) with a 26.0% share and Seagate with a 20.4% share. 

    The acquisition of HIT will lead to complete domination of the HDD market by WDC.


    Media Tablets, already cannibalizing Netbooks and Smartbooks, will impact Hard Disk Drive sales as units contain Solid State Drives (SSDs) instead of HDD.

    More than 54 million media tablets will sell in 2011, each containing a solid state drive (NYSE:SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD).  The HDD market, already reeling from more than 17 million media tablets sold in 2010, will be impacted by the displacement of HDD-based notebook PCs by media tablets.


    In 2011, media tablets are expected to penetrate the entire global community, thereby impacting PC sales and hence HDDs sales in other geographic regions.  In 2014, according to the report, the Asia-Pacific region will account for more than 50% of media tablet sales. 

    Mar 07 10:31 AM | Link | Comment!
  • Can The Western Solar Manufacturers Compete Against the Chinese?
    This year we expect that more than 20 GWatts of solar cells will be installed, up from 14 GWatts in 2010.  Moreover, the Chinese solar cell manufacturers produce more than 50% of the worldwide cells and export more than 90%. Five of the top 10 solar panel makers in the world are from China.  With the Chinese renowned for low-cost manufacturing, can the non-Chinese solar manufacturers compete against the likes of Suntech Power (NYSE:STP),Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE), Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL), Solarfun (SOLF) and Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ)?

    There is a constant struggle by solar manufacturers to keep production costs down and increase solar cell efficiency.  First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) has been an industry leader in this regard with its CdSe thin film solar cells.  Amorphous silicon manufacturers continue to promote themselves as low-cost manufacturers, while at the same time pulling out all stops to get efficiency above 10% to remain competitive.

    A recent release by SolarPA, which advertises on its home page ( that it uses "Nanotechnology to make solar cells better", notes that it can achieve relative increases on solar cell efficiency by up to 10% using a nanocoating that is applied to a completed solar cell.  Yes, we know that a 50 MW plant becomes a 55 MW plant with a 10% efficiency gain, but an interesting point is that the technology can move binned marginal efficiency cells above a company's minimum level to become useable.  This is critical.  Every day solar cell manufacturers make low-efficiency cells, some days are worse than others, because the manufacturing process, although highly automated, is subject to outside forces, such as the quality and defects of the solar cells and variations in materials and processing parameters.  One estimate I've seen is that as much as 20% of annual production  results in marginally efficient cells.  If a 50 MW plant makes 10 MW of marginal cells at a production cost of $1 per watt, that's $10 million that could be lost.  Increasing the efficiency of these cells by up to 10% at a cost of a few cents per watt is a huge factor in cost effectiveness.

    Another graph on the SolarPA site notes that relative efficiency of solar cells increases up to 18.5% over uncoated cells at grazing incidence (30 degrees) of sunlight.  We all know that because the sun moves across the sky and the angle of incidence does not remain at 90% (perpendicular to the cell), giant solar farms use expensive tracking devices to reposition the solar panels in the direction of the sun.  What about residential and commercial rooftops that don't use these tracking systems?  Cells coated with SolarPA's nanomaterial (dubbed NanoCoat) perform with efficiencies up to 18.5% better in early morning and late afternoon, as well as up to 10% better at noon.

    The privately held company, working with a grant funded from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, is exploring the feasibility coating solar panels already installed, which represents more than 100 GW of power.



    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
    Feb 14 1:04 PM | Link | Comment!
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