Monday, November 29, 1999

ANALYSIS - Analog chipmakers to ride high on green wave

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Analog chipmakers have long been the poor cousins of digital chip giants such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, but they are back in the spotlight as calls for greater power efficiency get louder.Analog chips are used in products that involve real world data such as electrical input, sound waves or pressure, which cannot be broken into ones and zeros -- the stuff of digital signals. Computers, mobile phones, planes and cars all use these chips.Analog chips, a majority of which are power management chips, are becoming the first step to efficient power control in products as pressure to curb electricity consumption mounts on nations at a time when more and more power-hungry products are hitting the market."Analog is the first chip that sees the plug point, sees the power socket," Brigantine Advisors analyst Ramesh Misra said. "It is virtually by their presence that they are able to drive efficiency."Analog chipmakers such as Texas Instruments Inc, ON Semiconductor Corp, Analog Devices Inc, Fairchild Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics NV are among the top chipmakers pumping in their research and development dollars into power management chips.For a graphic on chip-enabled power saving, click"Before we even consider the development of a new chip, we determine if it will contribute to higher energy efficiency and is going to make the customers' overall application more efficient," said Laurent Jenck, director of ON Semiconductor's lighting and smart grid segment.Analog chips, especially those managing electrical power within devices, were the earliest chips designed. But the rise of personal computer and servers led to the prominence of digital chips and semiconductor makers like Intel, AMD and Samsung.Digital chips account for about 85 percent of global chip sales, but buoyed by the need to cut down power consumption, sales of analog chips are expected to grow 28 percent in 2010. Total chip sales are expected to grow 23 percent in 2010, according to market research firm Databeans.According to a study commissioned by the Semiconductor Industry Association, United States can reduce its electricity consumption by 1.2 trillion kilowatt hours by 2030 if it accelerates the adoption of semiconductor-enabled technology.That is about a third of the total electricity consumed by United States in 2008.INDUSTRIAL AND AUTOMOTIVEMost of the analog chipmakers are working on cutting-edge technologies that aim to increase efficiency of motors and reduce carbon emissions.A hybrid car, such as Toyota's Prius, flaunts hundreds of analog chip sets that control everything from the main motor and battery to air conditioning and entertainment systems.Chipmakers such as Analog Devices offer smart transmitters for sensing, monitoring and recording power flow and temperatures in industrial applications. The company also makes high-precision temperature controllers that help in improving the energy efficiency of industrial devices."The industrial market is a very big driver in switching over to more efficiency overall," analyst Misra said.Analog chip products such as switch regulators are gaining popularity in industrial and automotive devices because these can provide an output voltage that is higher than the input voltage. Volterra Semiconductor Corp is considered to be a pioneer in this field.Chipmakers such as Texas Instruments, the world's largest analog chipmaker, and Fairchild also make solar inverters. Texas Instrument's solar inverters are designed with communication capability so that users can monitor the inverter and keep track of power and operating conditions.PC AND CONSUMER ELECTRONICSEven in PCs and servers, analog chips are complementing high-end digital chips in a significant way.While digital chipmakers such as Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices are producing smaller processors, analog chipmakers devising newer ways to control the amount of power these processors consume."It's basically power management chips that help fully utilize the digital chip and reduce the amount of power consumed," R.W. Baird analyst Tristan Gerra said.Power-hungry smart phones and LCD televisions are also looking to analog chips for greater efficiency.Texas Instruments makes a slew of energy-efficiency chips for batteries and adaptors that go into everything from cars to printers to DVD players. The company's new green mode controller can save total power supply system costs by up to 30 percent.Many analog companies are making smart circuits that sense when the device is switched on, but not being used, and minimize the electricity usage at such times by entering a stand-by mode.The International Energy Agency has introduced a one watt plan, endorsed by the G8 countries, which says that all nations move to stand-by power of less than one watt by 2010.LCD television makers are increasingly switching to sets using LED backlighting, since they are more power efficient than those lit by traditional cold cathode fluorescent lamps.Supertex Inc and Monolithic Power are providing the chips to backlight these sets.Some analysts think the stocks of analog chipmakers are likely to enjoy goodwill among investors in the coming years buoyed by their energy-efficient activities."Green energy is a catch word that everyone is jumping on," Sterne Agee analyst Vijay Rakesh said.(Reporting by Manasi Phadke in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Vyas Mohan)
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