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Computer processors: Foreign dominance keeps local makers on background

Niche applications are sustaining Taiwan's industry, which has yet to take off fully. ARM-based units lead local supply.

With the global computer processor industry dominated by foreign companies such as Intel, AMD and Nvidia, most Taiwan suppliers have taken on the role of distributors for large CPU/GPU makers. In fact, only one major local manufacturer, Via Technologies Inc., and a handful of small operations, including IC Nexus Co. Ltd, are actively involved in the line.

Computer processor

  In this report
  •  Main story
  •  Application-dependent R&D
  •  Mainland China: Segment advances slowly
Computer processors from the island go primarily to niche applications. Industrial PCs, retail POS systems, transportation, wireless sensor nets, telemetrics, home and industrial automation, and telecom, medical and health care equipment are among the industries served. Some suppliers also provide units for consumer electronics such as digital photo frames, navigation devices and set-top boxes, segments with lower technology barriers compared with desktop computers and laptops.

Models are based on the ARM framework for its low power consumption and design flexibility. Previously, the x86 processor was the top choice for desktop and notebook PCs. As its developer, however, Intel practically has a monopoly on the technology. Now, ARM is increasingly used in mobile computing such as laptops, netbooks, mobile Internet devices, smartphones and smartbooks.

The Nvidia Tegra, for example, is a series of SoC that utilizes the ARM processor and is designed for smartphones, MIDs and portable media players. It is small in size, and has low power consumption and high-definition performance.

Following Nvidia's lead, Taiwan IC makers have also started to develop ARM-based models. Via, which provides mainly to the industrial PC segment, offers a selection of computer processors for embedded systems, automotives and gambling machines.

The company's C7-M series, for instance, is designed for mobile and ultramobile devices. The product has integrated functions, low power consumption and improved temperature control. Via employs its patented PowerSaver technology to maximize battery life through dynamic transitions between intermediate power states based on user requirements.

The manufacturer also offers the Nano processor, its first 64-bit model targeted at the high-end market. The CPU has pin compatibility with the C7 series to allow smooth transition among OEMs and motherboard vendors intending to upgrade their current system or board designs. The Via Nano supports Blu-ray and high-definition formats as well.

Apart from processors, Via has related products such as logic and embedded systems.

Small solution providers, on the other hand, usually bundle their ICs in a development kit. This targets specific applications and allow design flexibility among downstream makers.

One such company is IC Nexus, which offers the NXC2620 Embedded DVK4.0 composed of a CPU card, baseboard, USB 1.1 hub card and color TFT-LCD screen. The kit is suitable for navigation devices, home automation and data acquisition applications.

The CPU card is a 32-bit system module based on Nexus' 32-bit RISC processor running at 336MHz, 128MB SDRAM and 1GB NAND flash. The card is designed to plug into a carrier board that contains all the connectors and any custom I/O required for general embedded applications.

Some Taiwan suppliers provide computer processors in modular type to meet customers' specific needs. These are mostly used in LCDs, surveillance cameras and car PCs rather than personal computers.

Makers also offer design and manufacturing services for SoC, ASIC and FPGA ICs for project-based customization.

IC Nexus, for example, provides register transfer level to ASIC design and silicon fabrication services. The company collaborates with multiple library vendors, IP companies, silicon foundries, and packaging and testing facilities for its solutions.

Prices of high-end processors are forecast to remain stable in coming months. Downward adjustments of 5 to 10 percent for low-end models, on the other hand, are expected.

This article "Computer processors: Foreign dominance keeps local makers on background" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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