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Semiconductor Technology

How “Chiplets” May Help the Future of Semiconductor Technology

The global demand for semiconductors is accelerating faster than a speeding bullet, with integrated device manufacturers, systems companies, and foundries like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company making a killing. But what do ‘chiplets’ have to do with semiconductors? 

This accelerating demand is largely fuelled by the rollout of 5G infrastructure and the increasingly connected devices we use on a daily basis. From semi-autonomous driving aids to the connected home, semiconductors power our digital lives. They are the brains of every smart electronics operation.

In the semiconductor industry, advancements come fast. Some companies have been painfully slow to react to change. Intel is a good example – they have fluffed the development of their 7nm chips and are stuck at 12nm, while AMD already has 7nm chips and is on course to deliver a 5nm chip. Nvidia is even further ahead.  

Chiplets

Chiplets are a proven (but niche) way for semiconductor developers to make semiconductors more efficient and easier to produce.

As semiconductors get more advanced, they get smaller. At a sub 10nm scale, foundries have to be spotlessly clean. This brings with it manufacturing complexities. Also, the smaller transistors get, the more likely they are to fail.

You can increase the yield of dies with small transistors by reducing the overall size. But as you reduce the size of the die, you have less space for the transistors.

So, one solution is Chiplets. Chiplets are smaller functional dies that integrate multiple chiplets into a single semiconductor. By giving functions of their own circuits (sub-circuits) we can remove design complexity and focus on efficiency.

Maximising yield reduces the cost

Using chiplets maximises the yield of dies and reduces design complexity, which in turn reduces manufacturing cost. To give you an idea of how much, AMD says chiplet designs can cut costs by more than half. 50%! That’s an astonishing saving and worth the effort if it also means keeping up with technological change.

(For what it’s worth, AMD uses chiplet design in its Zen 2 and Ryzen chips. The idea being that taking smaller dies and putting them together improves yield).

Intel is also a fan of chiplet design, and they have a vision for advancing it further, where instead of multiple dies, each IP has its own building block. This creates a more modular and flexible configuration. Here’s an illustration:

chiplet internal image

This is an exciting technology because the chiplets with IP/SOC are considerably smaller than the chiplets used in multiple dies. The benefit of this is you can configure the chiplets in more ways and maintain a common architecture.

Chiplets – the future, or not?

Chiplet design is already being used by AMD, and Nvidia has said they will go chiplet when it’s economically viable to do so. This means two of the three biggest CPU and GPU companies on the planet are on the chiplet train. As for Intel, they are too – but it looks like they will go their own way to build the chiplet model they want.

Clearly, chiplets are here to stay. Scaling chips with monolithic dies will always be a thing, but it gets expensive with advanced nodes. Chiplets are necessary to break up the cost and deliver the massive number of chips our connected world needs.

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Technology

5G Technology and drones – The future taking flight

The last decade has seen the commercial market for drones explode. The global drone market was estimated by PWC in 2016 to be worth just under £100 billion ($127bn) and that was 4 years ago before the emergence of 5G technology.

Rapid advancements in the propulsion, navigation, sensory and battery systems that power drones have brought about the likes of drone delivery services, aerial photography, and a new way to conduct mountain search and rescue operations.

These varied examples of drone applications perfectly illustrates the real usefulness of drones. Key to their adoption has been lithium-ion batteries that charge rapidly and better navigation systems that enable pinpoint control.

However, as drones have been increasingly adopted, our data transfer needs have increased and 4G technology has been shown up to be less than ideal.  

The need for 5G

5G can theoretically reach speeds of 10 gigabits per second and it is expected to reliably offer 1 Gbit/s to 2 Gbit/s in a few years.

This is much faster than 4G. For drones, it means faster data transfer and data collection, enabling real-time analysis and access to big data files quickly.

However, while much has been made about the increased speed of 5G over 4G (it is up to 100 times faster than 4G) the real value for drones is the lower latency.

Latency is the lag that occurs when resources are requested over a network. For example, you might wish to check wind speed when flying, but when you request the data, it takes a few seconds to load. This delay is caused by latency across the network.

Latency for 4G is around 30 milliseconds, whereas with 5G it’s below 5 milliseconds. In a best case scenario, the latency can be 1 millisecond.

This latency improvement is massive for drones. It makes reliable live view and live streaming possible. Real-time footage becomes a reality. Load times become imperceptible and responsiveness increases between devices.

Another area where 5G benefits drones is the 5G New Radio interface, which enables a higher number of devices to be used in one area over a wave spectrum. This means more devices can be controlled to reduce congestion.

Meeting demand for 5G component sourcing

5G is an exciting technology but it is still in its infancy, and up until now drone architecture has been designed around 4G.

5G requires different components to handle the speed increase and demands placed over the network. Drones need a new architecture to transfer data in milliseconds and transmit high-definition footage in real-time.

In short, the current technology has to evolve.

Sourcing components like ESCs, flight controllers, GPS modules, receivers, antennas and batteries for 5G drones will become more challenging as more players in the market start to evolve their products to meet demand.

Day-to-day component sourcing will require good contacts in the industry just as it always has. But the race to 5G will accelerate demand and increase competition. This is where the value of an electronic components distributor like us comes in.

We can supply active, passive and electro-mechanical components, including 5G components, working directly for you to procure the best components at the lowest prices. If the future is 5G, we’ll help you meet it.

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