Look at what is supposed to be a stellar-performing market: displays. According to data from the Consumer Electronics Association, large screen plasma and LCDs are flying out of the stores.Yet the major suppliers spent much of Q4 2006 getting seriously beaten up on price. Moreover, the likelihood of a third technology entering that market, SED (or surface-conduction electron-emitter display), now hangs in the balance following the enforced break-up of the Canon-Toshiba joint venture. Meanwhile, 802.11n wireless-on-steroids and next generation DVD are both now in the market – and there are good products available for both technologies from Apple TV to the PlayStation 3 – but unresolved standards issues continue to dog both.
And finally, never mind the end-markets, what about the day job? Veteran analyst Gary Smith has warned that one of the greatest design challenges now concerns the fundamental nature of computing itself. Parallelism is the gift that basically stops giving once you try to run more than four instruction sets across it.
Are we at a point where the general purpose Von Neumann computing model has to be dumped in favor of something application-specific? And what might be the cost there, if we can’t find a work-around. After all, we still have yet to really implement the economics and models necessary for true system-level design.
Our interview subject, Stanford professor Tom Lee, observes that historically if you give engineers “money and doughnuts” they solve your problems. But he also highlights that notwithstanding the profession’s inherent ability to do a good job on pessimism, there are challenges ahead that will require out-of-the-box thinking.
Hopefully, this edition you hold features some of the companies that are heading towards those cash and carbohydrate-fuelled answers: the multi-processor system-on-chip, paradigms that strip the ASIC-focus out of high-volume designs, and true concept-to-package engineering, to name but three. The ideas are out there and we will try to keep bringing them to your attention.
Indeed, these should be times to relish. Self-confessed “problem solvers” never had it so good.