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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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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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