Hey Big Spender! (For Semiconductor R&D, That’s Intel)

Nvidia, Samsung, and TSMC are dialing R&D spending way up, but Intel dominates

1 min read
Close up of an Intel Core X processor
Photo: Intel

The semiconductor industry in general is increasing its investments in research and development, but it will take a long time to challenge Intel’s dominant role.

That’s the conclusion of a report by IC Insights. The research firm indicated that overall industry spending, considering the top ten semiconductor companies (see chart, below), was up 6 percent in 2017 over 2016 to US $34 billion. Intel increased its already high levels of R&D spending by 3 percent to more than $13 billion—that Silicon Valley company invests more in R&D annually than the next five companies—Qualcomm, Broadcom, Samsung, Toshiba, and TSMC—combined. MediaTek, Micron, Nvidia, and SK Hynix rounded out the top ten list.

Beyond the top ten, IC Insights reported that eight more companies—NXP, TI, ST, AMD, Renesas, Sony, Analog Devices, and Global Foundries—spent more than $1 billion on semiconductor R&D last year.

The fastest growing R&D budget, the research firm said, is over at Intel’s Silicon Valley neighbor, Nvidia, whose nearly $1.8 billion R&D investment in 2017 topped its 2016 numbers by 23 percent. TSMC, Samsung, and SK Hynix also gave big boosts to their research budgets, while Qualcomm and Toshiba made cuts [see chart, below].

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3 Ways 3D Chip Tech Is Upending Computing

AMD, Graphcore, and Intel show why the industry’s leading edge is going vertical

8 min read
Vertical
A stack of 3 images.  One of a chip, another is a group of chips and a single grey chip.
Intel; Graphcore; AMD
DarkBlue1

A crop of high-performance processors is showing that the new direction for continuing Moore’s Law is all about up. Each generation of processor needs to perform better than the last, and, at its most basic, that means integrating more logic onto the silicon. But there are two problems: One is that our ability to shrink transistors and the logic and memory blocks they make up is slowing down. The other is that chips have reached their size limits. Photolithography tools can pattern only an area of about 850 square millimeters, which is about the size of a top-of-the-line Nvidia GPU.

For a few years now, developers of systems-on-chips have begun to break up their ever-larger designs into smaller chiplets and link them together inside the same package to effectively increase the silicon area, among other advantages. In CPUs, these links have mostly been so-called 2.5D, where the chiplets are set beside each other and connected using short, dense interconnects. Momentum for this type of integration will likely only grow now that most of the major manufacturers have agreed on a 2.5D chiplet-to-chiplet communications standard.

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