AMD Acquires Xilinx For $35 Billion

News this morning that AMD has reached an agreement to acquire Xilinx for $35 Billion in stock. The move to gobble up the leading company in the FPGA industry should come as no surprise for many reasons. First, the silicon business is thick in the age of mergers and acquisitions, but more importantly because AMD’s main competitor, Intel, purchased the other FPGA giant Altera back in 2015.

Primarily a maker of computer processors, AMD expands into the reconfigurable computing market as Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) can be adapted to different tasks based on what bitstream (programming information written to the chips) has been sent to them. This allows the gates inside the chip to be reorganized to perform different functions at the hardware level even after being put into products already in the hands of customers.

Xilinx invented the FPGA back in the mid-1980s, and since then the falling costs of silicon fabrication and the acceleration of technological advancement have made them evermore highly desirable solutions. Depending on volume, they can be a more economical alternative to ASICs. They also help with future-proofing as technology not in existence at time of manufacture — such as compression algorithms and communications protocols — may be added to hardware in the field by reflashing the bitstream. Xilinx also makes the Zynq line of hybrid chips that contain both ARM and FPGA cores in the same device.

The deal awaits approval from both shareholders and regulators but is expected to be complete by the end of 2021.

Nvidia Acquires ARM For $40 Billion

Nvidia announced on Sunday evening that it has reached an agreement to acquire Arm Limited from SoftBank for a cool $40 billion.

In this age of headlines that use the b-word in place of nine zeros it’s easy to lose track, so you may be wondering, didn’t SoftBank just buy Arm? That was all the way back in July of 2016 to the tune of $32 billion. SoftBank is a holding company, so that deal didn’t ruffle any feathers, but this week’s move by Nvidia might.

Arm Limited is the company behind the ARM architecture, but they don’t actually produce the chips themselves, instead licensing them to other companies who pay a fee to use the core design and build their own chip around it. Nvidia licenses the ARM core for some of their chips, and with this deal they will be in a position to set terms for how their competitors may license the ARM core. The deal still needs regulatory approval so time will tell if this becomes a kink in the acquisition plan.

There’s a good chance that you’re reading this article on a device that contains an ARM processor because of its dominance in the smartphone and tablet market. Although less common in the laptop market, and nearly unheard of in the desktop market, the tide may be changing as Apple announced early in the summer that their Mac line will be moving to ARM.

Chances are you know the Nvidia name for their role as purveyors of fine graphics cards. They got a major boost as the world ramped up Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency mining hardware which early on was mainly based on the heavy lifting of graphics processors. But the company also has their eye on the ongoing wave of hardware targeting AI applications like computer vision. Nvidia’s line of Jetson boards, marketed for “next-generation autonomous machines”, all feature ARM cores.

Assuming the deal goes through without a hitch, what will be the fallout? Your guess is as good ours. There is certainly a conflict of interest in a company who competes in the ARM market owning the Arm. But it’s impossible to say what efforts they will make to firewall those parts of the business. Some might predict a mass exodus from the ARM ecosystem in favor of an open standard like RISC-V, but that is unlikely in the near-term. Momentum is difficult to overcome — look at how long it took ARM to climb that mountain and it was primarily the advent of a new mobile ecosystem lacking an established dominant player that let ARM thrive.

Infineon Buys Cypress For $10B

Infineon will acquire Cypress Semiconductors for nearly $10 Billion dollars. This is the latest merger or acquisition in the semiconductor industry, and these mergers and acquisitions show no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Infineon’s market currently consists mostly of products aimed at the automotive market and power management and control. Cypress, likewise, has a wide portfolio of automotive electronics, from the guts of instrument clusters to the brains of infotainment systems. The automotive electronics industry is going gangbusters right now, and companies in the market are flush with cash; Infineon acquiring Cypress allows both companies to focus their R&D to develop products for the same market.

As with all mergers and acquisitions, there is the question of what may be lost, or what may go out of production. Cypress is most famous for their PSOC microcontrollers, but for now those uCs, and their CapSense capability, seem safe. Cypress is also noteworthy for manufacturing old-school memories, but again it looks like you’ll still be able to buy these years down the line; in any event, Alliance memory is still around stuffing DRAMs in DIPs.

This acquisition of Cypress by Infineon is one of the largest in recent memory. Apple recently bought a $600 Million stake in Dialog, and Microchip acquired Microsemi for $8.35 Billion. Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies for a mere $218 Million. This deal between Infineon and Cypress puts the company in the upper echelon of recent mergers and acquisitions.

Tesla Eyes Ultracapacitor Future With Maxwell Acquisition

As reported by Bloomberg, Tesla has acquired the innovative energy storage company Maxwell Technologies for $218 Million. The move is a direct departure from Tesla’s current energy storage requirements; instead of relying on lithium battery technology, this acquisition could signal a change to capacitor technology.

The key selling point of capacitors, either of the super- or ultra- variety, is the much shorter charge and discharge rates. Where a supercapacitor can be used to weld metal by simply shorting the terminals (don’t do that, by the way), battery technology hasn’t yet caught up. You can only charge batteries at a specific rate, and you can only discharge them at a specific rate. The acquisition of an ultracapacitor manufacturer opens the possibility of these powerhouses finding their way into electric vehicles.

While there is a single problem with super- and ultra-capacitors — the sheer volume and the fact that a module of ultracaps will hold much less energy than a module of batteries of the same size — the best guess is that Tesla won’t be replacing all their batteries with caps in the short-term. Analysts think that future Teslas may feature a ‘co-battery’ of sorts, allowing for fast charging and discharging through a series of ultracapacitors, with the main energy storage in the car still being the lithium battery modules. This will be especially useful for regenerative braking, as slowing down a three thousand pound vehicle produces a lot of energy, and Tesla’s current battery technology can’t soak all of it up.

Mergers And Acquisitions: Apple Buys Most Of Dialog

Apple is buying a $600 million stake in Dialog Semiconductor in a deal Dialog is describing as an asset transfer and licensing deal.

Dialog’s current portfolio is focused mainly on mobile devices, with Bluetooth wearables-on-a-chipCODEC chips for smartphones, and power management ICs for every type of portable electronics. Power managment ICs are by far the most visible component, although they do have the very interesting GreenPAK, a sort of mixed-signal FPGA-ish thing that is one of the more interesting chips to be come online in the last few years. Apple of course are a trillion dollar company that once made computers, but now receives most of its revenue through phone dongles and lightning connector converters. It is not clear at the time of this writing whether a Dialog engineer with experience in heat management will be joining Apple.

In the last week, Apple have taken some bad press about the state of their supply chain. Bloomberg reported Apple found hidden chips in Supermicro motherboards. ostensibly implanted by Chinese intelligence agencies. This story is reportedly multiply sourced, but there’s no evidence or explanation of how this supply chain hack was done. In short, infiltration of a supply chain by foreign agents could happen (and I suspect Bloomberg engineers found something in some of their hardware), but the Bloomberg piece is merely just a wake-up call telling us yes, you are vulnerable to a hardware attack.

This is further evidence of Apple’s commitment to vertical integration. Apple are making their own chips, and the A12 Bionic in the new iPhone X is an Apple-designed CPU, GPU, and ‘neural engine’ that turns your Facetime sessions into animated emojis. This chip is merely the latest in a series of SoCs developed by Apple, and adds to Apple’s portfolio of chips designed to run the Apple Watch, Apple AirPods, and system management controllers in Apple products. There’s no other electronics manufacturer that is as dedicated to vertical integration as Apple (although we’re pouring one out for Commodore), and the acquisition of Dialog will surely add to Apple’s capabilities.

Hackaday Links: July 29, 2018

Another holy scroll for the Church of Robotron. PoC || GTFO is a semi-annual journal of hardware exploitation, and something you must read. About a year ago, No Starch Press released the first Bible of PoC || GTFO, and now it’s time for a new testament. PoC || GTFO Volume 2 is out now, covering Elegies of the Second Crypt War to Stones from the Ivory Tower, Only as Ballast. It’s still Bible-shaped, with a leatherette cover and gilt edges.

KiCad version 5 is out, and you know what that means: It’s time to start on version 6. To that end, CERN has opened up the floodgates where youyes, you can donate to KiCad development. The team is looking for 600 hours of development and 30,000 Swiss Francs or about that many US Dollars. As of this writing (last Wednesday), more than 200 people have donated, at an average donation per person of about 80 CHF.

Oh good, this is finally over. Qualcomm will not be buying NXP. Previously, Reuters reported Qualcomm would purchase the other semiconductor manufacturer for $38 Billion, the largest semiconductor deal ever. There were earlier rumors of an acquisition. The deal was struck down by Chinese regulators, and speculation rages that this is a reaction to the US/China trade war. Qualcomm now has to pay NXP $2 Billion in fees, which they could use to dig out some of the unobtanium Motorola datasheets locked away in a file cabinet.

The uStepper (or μStepper, whatever) is a neat little add-on to standard NEMA stepper motors. It bolts to the back and gives you the ability to control a stepper over a standard serial bus, with a built-in encoder. Now there’s a new Kickstarter for an improved version that uses the Trinamic TMC2208 ‘silent’ motor driver. That Kickstarter is just a draft now, but if you’re planning a 3D printer build, this could be what you’re waiting for.

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?’