Hackaday Links: June 17, 2018

Do you like badges? Of course you like badges. It’s conference season, and that means it’s also badge season. Well good news, Tindie now has a ‘badge’ category. Right now, it’s loaded up with creepy Krustys, hypnotoads, and fat Pikas. There’s also an amazing @Spacehuhn chicken from [Dave]. Which reminds me: we need to talk about a thing, Spacehuhn.

On the list of ‘weird emails we get in the tip line’ comes Rat Grease. Rat Grease is the solution to rodents chewing up cabling and wires. From what we can gather, it’s a mineral oil-based gel loaded up with capsaicin; it’s not a poison, and not a glue. Rats are our friends, though, which makes me want to suggest this as a marinade, or at the very least a condiment. The flash point is sufficiently high that you might be able to use this in a fryer.

[Matthias Wandel] is the guy who can build anything with a table saw, including table saws. He posts his stuff online and does YouTube videos. A while back, he was approached by DeWalt to feature their tools in a few videos. He got a few hand tools, a battery-powered table saw, and made some videos. The Internet then went insane and [Matthias] lost money on the entire deal. Part of the reason for this is that his viewers stopped buying plans simply because he featured yellow power tools in his videos. This is dumpster elitism, and possibly the worst aspect of the DIY/engineering/maker community.

Elon Musk is the greatest inventor ever. No scratch that. The greatest person ever. Need more proof? The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and our hearts has been given the green light to build a high-speed underground train from Chicago O’Hare to downtown. Here’s the kicker: he’s going to do it for only $1 Billion, or $55 Million per mile, making it the least expensive subway project by an order of magnitude. Yes, Subways usually cost anywhere between $500 to $900 Million per mile. How is he doing it? Luck, skill, and concentrated power of will. Elon is the greatest human ever, and we’re not just saying that to align ourselves with an audience that is easy to manipulate; we’re also saying this because Elon has a foggy idea for a ‘media vetting wiki’.

There are rumors Qualcomm will acquire NXP for $44 Billion. This deal has been years in the making, with reports of an acquisition dating back to 2016. Of course, that time, the deal was set to go through but was apparently put on hold by Chinese regulators. Now it’s the same story again; there were recent rumors of Qualcomm buying NXP, and the story was later changed to rumors. We’re waiting for an actual press release on this one. It’s just another long chapter in the continuing story of, ‘where the hell are all the Motorola app notes and data sheets?’

What’s The Deal With Atmel And Microchip?

It’s been nearly a year since Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. As with any merger, acquisition, or buyout, there has been concern and speculation over what will become of the Atmel catalog, the Microchip catalog, and Microchip’s strategy for the coming years.

For the Hackaday audience, this is a far more important issue than Intel’s acquisition of Altera, On Semi and Fairchild, and even Avago’s purchase of Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal in history. The reason Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel is such an important issue is simply due to the fact the Hackaday community uses a lot of their parts. This was a holy war, and even changing the name of a line of chips to ‘MCMega’ would result in a consumer rebellion, or at least a lot of very annoying tweets.

For the record, I’ve tried my best to figure out what’s going on with Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel for the last few months. I’ve talked to a few Microchip reps, a few Atmel reps, and talked to a few ‘out of band’ connections – people who should know what’s going on but aren’t directly tied to either Atmel or Microchip. The best I’ve come up with is a strange silence. From my perspective, it seems like something is going on, but no one is saying anything.

Take the following with several grains of salt, but Microchip recently got in touch with me regarding their strategy following their Atmel acquisition. In a few thousand words, they outlined what’s going on in casa Microchip, and what will happen to the Atmel portfolio in the future.

Broad Strokes

In broad strokes, the Microchip PR team wanted to emphasize a few of the plans regarding their cores, software, and how Microchip parts are made obsolete. In simple, bullet point terms, this is what Microchip passed on to me, to pass on to you:

  • Microchip will continue their philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence. This has historically been true – Microchip does not EOL parts lightly, and the state of the art from 1995 is still, somewhere, in their catalog.
  • We plan to support both Atmel Studio 7 and MPLAB® X for the foreseeable future.
  • Microchip has never focused on “one core”, but rather on the whole solution providing “one platform.” This is also true. A year ago, Microchip had the MIPS-based PIC-32 cores, a few older PIC cores, and recently Microchip has released a few ARM cores. Atmel, likewise, has the family tree of 8 and 32-bit AVR cores and the ARM-based SAM cores.
  • We will continue to support and invest in growing our 8-bit PIC® and AVR MCU product families.

Specifics

In addition to the broad strokes outlined above, Microchip also sent along a few questions and answers from Ganesh Moorthy, Microchip’s President and COO. These statements dig a little bit deeper into what’s in store for the Microchip and Atmel portfolios:

How will the 32-bit products complement each other? Atmel has a few 32-bit microcontrollers, like the SAM and AT32 series. Microchip has the PIC-32. The answer to this question is, “Many of the 32-bit MCU products are largely complementary because of their different strengths and focus.  For example, the SAM series has specific families targeting lower power consumption and 5 volts where PIC32 has families more optimally suited for audio and graphics solutions. We plan to continue investing in both SAM and PIC32 families of products.

Will Atmel’s START support 8-bit AVRs? “Yes, although it is too early to commit to any specific dates at this stage, we consider modern rapid prototyping tools, such as START and the MPLAB Code Configurator, strategic for the our customers to deliver innovative and competitive solutions in this fast-paced industry.”

Now that Microchip has a complete portfolio of low-power, inexpensive 32-bit microcontrollers, will the focus on 8-bit product be inevitably reduced? No, we see that in actual embedded control applications there is still a large demand for the type of qualities that are uniquely provided by an 8-bit product such as: ease-of-use, 5V operation, robustness, noise immunity, real-time performance, long endurance, integration of analog and digital peripherals, extremely low-static power consumption and more. We don’t think that the number of bits is an appropriate / sufficient way to classify a complex product such as the modern microcontroller. We believe that having the right peripherals is actually what matters most.”

Security, Memories, WiFi, and Analog products. For both Atmel and Microchip, the most visible products in each of their portfolios is the lineup of microcontrollers. This isn’t the limit of their portfolios, though: Atmel has space-grade memories, Microchip has some very useful networking chips, and both companies have a number of security and crypto chips. In the statements given by Moorthy, very little will change. The reason for this is the relative lack of overlap in these devices. Even in segments where there is significant overlap, no EOLs are planned, circling back to the, “philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence.” In other words, if people keep buying it, it’s not going away.

The Takeaway

What is the future of Microchip post-Atmel acquisition? From what I’m seeing, not much. Microchip is falling back on their philosophy of ‘customer-driven obsolescence’. What does that mean? Any non-biased assessment of Microchip’s EOL policy is extremely generous. The chip found in the Basic Stamp 1, from 1993, is still available. It’s not recommended for new designs, but you can still buy it. That’s impressive any way you look at it.

The one thing we’re not getting out of this pseudo press release is information about what Atmel will be called in a few years. Will the Atmel mark be subsumed by a gigantic letter ‘M’? Will the company retain two different trademarks? There is no public information about this.

Yes, I know this post is a nearly verbatim copy of a pseudo press release. I’m not particularly happy this information was presented to me this way, but then again, the Atmel/Microchip ecosystem has been impressively secretive. This is the only information that exists, though, and I’m glad to have it in any event.

That said, there are a lot of people in the Hackaday community that want to know what the deal is with Microchip and Atmel. Short of pulling Jerry Seinfeld out of retirement, this is the best we’re going to get for now. Of course, if you have any info or speculation, the comments below are wide open.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Analog and Linear

Analog Devices and Linear Technology have announced today they will combine forces to create a semiconductor company worth $30 Billion.

This news follows the very recent acquisition of ARM Holdings by Japan’s SoftBank, and the later mergers, purchases or acquisitions of On and Fairchild, Avago and Broadcom, NXP and Freescale, and Microchip and AtmelIntel and Altera, and a few more we’re forgetting at the moment.

Both Analog and Linear address similar markets; Analog Devices is best known for amps, interface, and power management ICs. Linear, likewise, isn’t known for ‘fun’ devices, but without their products the ‘fun’ components wouldn’t work. Because the product lines are so complimentary, the resulting company will stand to save $150 Million annually after the deal closes.

Analog and Linear are only the latest in a long line of semiconductor mergers and acquisitions, but it will certainly not be the last. The entire industry is consolidating, and the only way to grow is by teaming up with other companies. This leads the question if there will eventually only be one gigantic semiconductor company in the future. You’ll get different answers to that question from different people. Hughes, Fairchild, Convair, Douglas, McDonnell Douglas, North American, Grumman, Northrop, Northrop Grumman, Bell, Cessna, Schweizer and Sikorsky would say yes. Lockheed Martin and Boeing would say no. It’s the same thing.

Rumors of Xilinx Sale Abound

The companies that design and build the chips we all use – Atmel, Texas Instruments, Microchip, NXP, Freescale, Intel, Altera, Avago, Broadcom, and On Semi are all buying each other, merging, and slowly becoming two or three gigantic semiconductor companies. The question on everyone’s mind is, ‘which company will be next?’ The answer might be Xilinx, inventors of the FPGA and designers of some really cool parts.

The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s reported a few regulatory filings from Xilinx last week. This could signal an acquisition or merger of the company When this could happen is anyone’s guess, but rumors are flooding the Internet over who would buy Xilinx.

Until recently, Xilinx’s largest competitor in the FPGA market was Altera. That is, until Intel came by with a check for $16.7 Billion. The revenue, size, and market cap of both Xilinx and Altera aren’t too different, leading the question of who would have the money to buy Xilinx and isn’t Intel. Aren’t rumors fun?

Xilinx’s portfolio include high performance, mid-range and low-cost FPGAs as well as interesting hybrid devices. One such hybrid is Zynq, an FPGA and fast ARM Cortex A9 processor in the same package. All these chips will be made for years to come in one form or another. The only question is if Xilinx will make these chips, or will the company continue on under some new branding.

Microchip’s Proposal To Acquire Atmel

A proposal from Microchip to acquire Atmel has been deemed a ‘superior proposal’ by Atmel’s board of directors (PDF). This is the first step in the acquisition of a merger between Microchip and Atmel, both leading semiconductor companies that have had a tremendous impact in the electronics industry.

Microchip is a leading manufacturer of microcontrollers, most famously the PIC series of micros that can be found in any and every type of electronic device. Atmel, likewise, also has a large portfolio of microcontrollers and memory devices that are found in every type of electronic device. Engineers, hackers, and electronic hobbyists are frequently sided with Microchip’s PIC line or Atmel’s AVR line of microcontrollers. It’s the closest thing we have to a holy war in electronics.

Last September, Dialog acquired announced plans to acquire Atmel for $4.6 Billion. Today’s news of a possible acquisition of Atmel by Microchip follows even larger mergers such as NXP and Freescale, Intel and Altera, Avago and Broadcom, On Semiconductor and Fairchild, and TI and Maxim. The semiconductor industry has cash on hand and costs to cut, these mergers and acquisitions are the natural order of things.

While the deal is not done, the money is on the table, and Atmel’s board is apparently interested.

ON Semiconductor Acquires Fairchild

In the continuing process of semiconductor companies buying each other up, ON Semiconductor has acquired Fairchild Semiconductor for $2.4 Billion.

ON Semi and Fairchild’s deal is only the latest in a long line of mergers and acquisitions. We’ve recently seen Dialog’s buyout of Atmel, Avago’s purchase of Broadcom,  NXP and Freescale’s merger, and soon might see TI buy Maxim. We’re currently in the great time of acquisition, with nearly $100 Billion flowing from company to company in just a few months.

Companies have cash to spend and costs to cut. This latest deal is expected to save $150 Million in annual costs.

Fairchild has a long and storied history in the semiconductor industry, with the first integrated circuit produced in a Fairchild lab in Palo Alto. [Bob Widlar] made Fairchild his home until famously leaving for National Semiconductor in 1965. Somewhat ironically, Fairchild Semiconductor was bought by National Semiconductor in 1987.

ON Semiconductor’s history is not nearly as interesting, being spun off of Motorola’s semiconductor business in 1999. Although ON’s main line of business was discrete components, ON also has a catalog of quite a few power management ICs.

Unfortunately, because ON Semi bought Fairchild and not the other way around, we’re stuck with what is probably the worst logo in the entire semiconductor industry: drop-shadowed balls are so mid-90s!

Avago Buys Broadcom For $37 Billion

The economy is doing well, and that means companies are spending money. Companies in the chip business are in fact businesses, and spending money to them means acquisitions and mergers. The latest such deal is Avago Technologies buying Broadcom for $37 Billion USD – the largest deal ever made in the semiconductor industry.

The products made by these two companies aren’t usually found in stock at Adafruit, Sparkfun, or in the BOMs on Hackaday.io, but that doesn’t mean these chips aren’t extremely popular in the industry. Avago has a huge catalog of RF goodies and a surprising number of LED products. Broadcom, outside of the SoC found in the Raspberry Pi, likewise isn’t seen very often on workbenches, but their chips are found in everything from set-top boxes to Ethernet and broadband equipment.

Just a few months ago, a merger between NXP and Freescale struck a little bit closer to our hearts, but there is an opportunity for this acquisition to be much more interesting. The company that emerges from the NXP and Freescale merger will be saddled with hundreds of chip lines that all compete with each other – a cornucopia of ARMs, 8051s, Kinetis,  iMX.6, and ColdFires, and that’s just microcontrollers. Avago and Broadcom don’t have a catalog that overlaps nearly as much, and it will be very interesting to see what they can come up with.