Wenchi Chen, VIA CEO and Dr. Morris Chang, TSMC

VIA hosted another technology forum that was comprised of some of the greatest minds in the semiconductor business. There was a lot of information presented by the speakers that I think will be worth your reading.

The VIA Technology Forum is a presentation, now in its fifth year, that VIA Technologies hosts during the annual Computex exhibition, as well as in other cities around the world at different times.  It is a place where major players in the world of computing and information technology can gather and discuss the trends of the industry as well as the dreams and goals of those that are in it. 

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VTF 2004 was held at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei on June 3rd, during the Computex 2004 show.  It featured speakers Wenchi Chen, the CEO of VIA Technologies; Dr. Morris Chang, Chairman of TSMC; Dirk Meyer, Executive VP of AMD; and many others.  A few media also got a chance to go to the VIA headquarters building to have a private chat with Wenchi Chen as well as Chewei Lin, VP of Product Marketing for VIA Technologies, and we’ll go over some interesting topics that were discussed in that as well.

Wenchi Chen, President and CEO of VIA Technologies

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Wenchi Chen holding up a PT890 Chipset Reference Board with PCI Express and AGP on board

Wenchi was the introductory keynote into the event and his talk discussed much about the overall vision and goals for VIA as a company on the immediate and distant futures.  As from the VTF logo you saw above, VIA’s slogan was “Digital Brilliance” which while is a lot of PR schmoozing, gives way to VIA’s vision that the digital mediums do more for the end user and finally become the products that so many of us have been promised by technology companies in the past.  This age of “Digital Brilliance” takes a major turn in the industry, as Wenchi states they no longer see it focusing on computing, but more connectivity and contact with the media we purchase and create. 

Some interesting points that Wenchi mentioned included that DirectX 10 would be coming later this year or early 2005.  Also, something that many of us realize but maybe haven’t put directly into words, is that the upcoming PCI Express transition is going to be different than past bus changes.  The PCI-E transition is a “hard” switch, where we are seeing the major player in the industry attempting to force a very fast take over of PCI Express over current AGP and PCI busses.  In the past, from ISA to PCI and to AGP, there has also been a parallel transition, where chipsets were supporting both the current and legacy bus in order to help the market transition smoothly.  VIA is attempting to make a stand in this area by providing the means for a “soft” transition with the PT890 and K8T890 chipsets, both of which will support AGP and PCI Express. 

Wenchi also briefly touched on the thinking that VIA has adopted that the current x86 architecture is the answer to all industry solutions in the present and future because of the layered instruction set infrastructure.  We’ll touch more on this in Dirk Meyer’s presentation that has numerous details on the x86 architecture. 

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Finally, VIA demonstrated some applications of their x86 processing technology, courtesy of Tim Handley of VIA.

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Dr. Morris Chang, Founder and Chairman, TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company)

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Dr. Morris Chang

Dr. Chang is unique in his keynotes that he doesn’t use power point slides, and he rarely has any visual aides in his talks.  His speaking mannerisms are very slow and deliberate, and if you weren’t paying attention to what he was saying, you might jump to the conclusion that it was boring.  However, if you listen to what he says, you’ll find that the information that Dr. Chang provides and the vision he gives are among the best and most respected in the industry.  It is indeed always a great experience to listen to him and I have never walked away without feeling more in touch with the industry as a whole.

I’ll briefing summarize some key points that he mentioned.  First, he told us that 2003 was an up year for the semiconductor market.  Where as in 2001, there was a 25% decline and in 2002 a flat growth rate, in the 2003 we saw an 18% growth rate and though we are still only half way through the 2004 year, a 30% growth for 04 is a strong possibility.  Current estimates are putting 2005 as nearly as strong a year as well.  The predictions he made at the beginning of the decade, that a 10-12% growth rate would incur are still holding true.  Like I said, this guy is one to pay attention to.

Dr. Chang states that the product mix in the semiconductor market have changed to digital consumer electronics and that electronics growth will bypass office productivity growth (the major player in the semiconductor world for a long time) in terms of hardware and will become the driving force of the industry.  I personally saw this to also be the case while browsing through the Computex show floor where a vast majority of motherboard manufacturers have expanded their capabilities from just motherboards and graphics to MP3 players, enclosures and even headphones. 

For fabless industry companies, such as NVIDIA, ATI and VIA, Dr. Chang is foreseeing some issues that will be changing in the near future.  For one, the development cycle of new products will be much shorter and the product differentiation will be harder.  This will require these companies to depend on a much faster ramp up time and ramp down time.  In other words, companies like VIA must be able to start production of a new product very quickly, when the consumers demand it, and be able to halt production on a whim if consumer demand falls, if they are to remain profitable and successful.  It will also be important for these fabless companies to provide a complete solution to the consumer including silicon hardware and software, not just the IC.  You can see this trend already being applied in chipsets where software features are being pushed just as much if not more than the hardware features.

Interesting, Dr. Chang mentioned that TSMC’s plans for this are to broaden their technology offerings to both 90nm and to 130nm with a lateral spread.  As hardware becomes less of the driving force as the complete solution is what matters, the need for smaller semiconductor technology (90nm, 65nm, etc) becomes less of an issue and utilizing current technologies is more beneficial.  Because of this, TSMC plans to expand their production of BOTH 130nm and 90nm process technology instead of decreasing the older 130nm to increase the 90nm volume.  This capacity expansion in both new and mature technologies is something new to the industry.  He also stated that even with this lateral expansion, 65nm technology will still be here in late 2006 or early 2007 with 45nm following another 2 years afterwards.


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