Category Archives: Electronics

Denver hosts Green Grid meeting

Denver will play host next week to the first technical summit of The Green Grid, a non-profit consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in computer data centers.

Energy use is a growing concern for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other big computer users, which are building huge data centers around the globe to handle soaring demand for broadband Internet services. Google engineer Luiz André Barroso has predicted, in fact, that energy costs may soon surpass the cost of computing equipment for large users.

The April 18-19 Green Grid event is expected to bring together leading technical experts from founding companies AMD, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. Longmont-based Copan Systems, Inc., a privately held maker of energy-efficient disk storage sysytems, was one of nearly 30 additional new members announced this week, including Brocade Communications, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Novell, QLogic, Texas Instruments and others.

This will be the first event for the organization since its launch this February. The two-day summit’s three main goals are: how to define and measure data-center efficiency, how to build more efficient data centers and how to improve the efficiency of daily operations.

EE Times reports that one possible solution the group may debate is shifting data centers from AC to DC power. While Intel has been touting that idea recently, Google has been pushing another approach calling for the computer industry to replace a wide variety of multi-voltage power supplies with standard, more efficient 12-volt power supplies.

For more information, see the Green Grid website: http://www.thegreengrid.org/.

AeA issues U.S. tech warning

Today, for the second time in two years, the American Electronics Association (AeA) issued a strident call for U.S. education reform, greater investment in basic science and technology research and a more lenient visa system to encourage the world’s best and brightest engineers and entrepreneurs to come here to pursue their careers.

In a report entitled “We are still losing the competitive advantage” (see full pdf copy here, or executive summary here), the Santa Clara, Calif-based organzation noted that although awareness of America’s lagging tech competitiveness appears to have increased, very little actual progress has been made.

Congress introduced numerous bills during the last session calling for visa reform, increased R&D investment and improved science, technology, engineering, and math education. But as the report notes: “Not one of these bills was passed or ever seriously debated.”

In a letter accompanying the report, AeA CEO William Archey and Chairman Timothy Guertin describe the United States as “the proverbial frog in the pot of water, oblivious to the slowly rising temperature of a world catching up to us. Today, the heat is still rising and we are still in the pot. There is hope that we are finally feeling the heat and are poised to do something about it. Hope, but not certainty.”

Numerous signs of declining U.S. competitiveness are evident right here in the Mile-High state.

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AeA recommendations

Today’s AeA’s report on U.S. competitiveness offers two tiers of public-policy recommendations, ranked in order of priority.

The first tier suggests immediate changes that already have been introduced in various bills and appear to have widespread bipartisan support. The second tier is more challenging, having generally not yet been introduced as legislation, or having the same degree of bipartisan support. Nonetheless, the group describes these longer-range measures as “equally critical” to long-term American competitiveness.

1st Tier Recommendations:

  • Dramatic improvements in U.S. education
    • Improve K-12 math and science instruction
    • Sustain, strengthen, and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act
    • Promote undergraduate and graduate science, technology, engineering, and math education
    • Create a Human Capital Investment Tax Credit to promote continuous education
  • Support and increase research and development
    • Increase federal funding for physical science, engineering, math, and computer science basic research through the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense
    • Strengthen the R&D tax credit and make it permanent
  • Enact High-skilled visa reform
    • Lower barriers for high-skilled individuals to get temporary work visas
    • Give green cards to all U.S.-educated master and doctoral students

2nd Tier Recommendations:

  • Create a more business-friendly environment in the U.S.
    • Reduce the “onerous and disproportionate” tax that small- and medium-size companies incur by complying with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
    • Address rising health-care costs through initiatives such as electronic medical records
    • Fully fund the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reduce lag time between patent filing and approval
  • Engage proactively in the global trade system
    • Advance free and fair trade policies and agreements and conclude the Doha Round of global trade talks
    • Renew the President’s trade promotion authority
    • Promote stronger worldwide enforcement of intellectual property protection
  • Promote broadband diffusion
    • Offer industry incentives to promote broadband diffusion
    • Ensure affordable broadband access for every American within five years

A parting thought from the report:

“When one of America’s strongest competitive advantages in the global marketplace is a knowledge-based economy, it does not bode well for the future when the United States neglects the infrastructure that supports its wealth creation.”

Ramtron boosts memory

Colorado Springs-based Ramtron International Corp. (Nasdaq: RMTR) has quadrupled the storage capacity of its ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) chips to 4 megabits (Mb), and has reached a manufacturing agreement with Texas Instruments (TI) to produce the new devices.

FRAM chips are one of several competing “non-volatile” memory technologies, which can retain stored data when their power supply is turned off. Ramtron has been developing FRAM memory for 20 years. But it only started commercial production of the chips a few years ago, and then at relatively small storage capacities of 1 Mb or less. The latest flash memory chips, in comparison, can store up to 16 Gb, or roughly 4,000 times more data than Ramtron’s new 4 Mb chips.

Ramtron’s 4Mb chip

Ramtron’s new 4 Mb chip

Nonetheless, Ramtron’s chips have found a number of niche markets in recent years — including electric utility meters, auto navigation and entertainment systems, printers and specialized disk drive controllers — where users are willing to pay a premium for fast, durable, power-efficient non-volatile memory. The company says it has now shipped more than 150 million FRAM chips.

Last year, Ramtron’s sales grew 18% to $40.5 million, while gross profit margins increased to more than 50%.

Although Ramtron initially planned to manufacture its own chips, it long ago sold its production facility in the Springs, and has relied on third-party manufacturers, including Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd., to build its chips. This week’s deal adds TI as an additional supplier.

TI and Ramtron have been working together since 2001 to develop a process for making FRAM chips with circuits as small as 130 nanometers. While Ramtron continues to produce stand-alone FRAM memory chips, TI has licensed the technology with plans to eventually embed blocks of FRAM memory within other kinds of logic chips.

Ramtron CEO Bill Staunton says that besides the 4 Mb chips, his company plans to use TI’s manufacturing line to produce samples of “at least one additional product” during 2007.