Readership Explosion

This year has seen a dramatic change in readership, possibly caused by automotive chip shortages, or the passing of the CHIPS act.


Every year, I use my last blog of the year to look back over the stories that have been published in the Systems and Design and Low Power-High Performance channels — the two channels that I write for — at Semiconductor Engineering. I am looking for the most read stories. I do this for a number of reasons, such as trying to gauge if readers’ interests are changing, and the preferred type and depth of articles.

Something big happened this year. Without going into specific numbers, our readership has been increasing every year and the bar for being special has moved up. To make the top of the list today needs to see 10X the number of readers compared to our first year of publishing. But that is not the big change. We are starting to see some stories that have 10X over those amounts.

With the start of COVID, the auto industry made some bad decisions with respect to their semiconductor orders. They expected the industry to go into a deep slowdown, complete with canceled orders. After a couple of months it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, and people continued to buy new cars. But the auto manufacturers found, to their dismay, that they had lost their slots in the fabs, and even today thousands of cars and trucks are finished, except for needing a few parts – primarily chips. Even with a general semiconductor industry slowdown that has been happening during 2022, they still do not have enough parts.

Increased international trade tensions also have buffeted the semiconductor industry, especially the passing of the CHIPS Act in August. It is attempting to bring semiconductor manufacturing back into the U.S. and will pump about $280 billion into ensuring that the country has the technology and capacity to be more self-reliant in the future. That means more interest not only in fabs, but in IP and EDA.

A third thing that has happened this year is the bursting of the love affair with all things social media and the Internet. These companies were attracting a lot of the top talent, both in the U.S. and around the world, almost starving the semiconductor industry of new grads. These companies are no longer seen as the quick path to fame and fortune, and that has started to move the spotlight back to the semiconductor industry.

What this means is that instead of just being a publication read by industry insiders, Semiconductor Engineering has become a source of information at the national and international levels, and is attracting a much broader level of interest than it ever has in the past. While the national press may write about high-level issues surrounding the industry, they do not have the experts to write the more detailed stories and perform the analysis necessary to get the full picture.

How do we know this? Quite simply, the readership numbers vastly exceed the number of people in the semiconductor industry – worldwide.

The winners are…

In 9th place, written by myself is Is Programmable Overhead Worth The Cost? Programmability has fueled the growth of most semiconductor products, but how much does it actually cost? And is that cost worth it? This story delved into the factors that have to be considered. It can vary by application, by maturity of technology in a particular market, and in the context of much larger systems. What’s considered important for one design may be very different for another.

In 8th place is John Koon’s story How Memory Design Optimizes System Performance. The exponential increases in data, and demand for improved performance to process that data, has spawned a variety of new approaches to processor design and packaging, but it also is driving big changes on the memory side.

In 7th place is my story The Next Incarnation Of EDA. The EDA industry has incrementally addressed issues as they arise in the design of electronic systems, but is there about to be a disruption? Academia is certainly seeing that as a possibility, but not all of them see it happening for the same reason.

In 6th place is Ann Steffora Mutschler’s story Bespoke Silicon Rattles Chip Design Ecosystem. Bespoke silicon developers are shaking up relationships, priorities, and methodologies across the semiconductor industry, creating demand for skills that cross traditional boundaries, and driving new business models that leverage these enormous investments.

In 5th place is my story A Minimal RISC-V, that examined if the RISC-V ISA and implementations of it are small enough to address what is currently the 8-bit controller market.

4th place goes to my story Can Analog Make a Comeback. We live in an analog world dominated by digital processing, but that could change. Domain specificity, and the desire for greater levels of optimization, may provide analog compute with some significant advantages — and the possibility of a comeback.

3rd place goes to Karen Heyman story’s DRAM Thermal Issues Reach Crisis Point. Within the DRAM world, thermal issues are at a crisis point. At 14nm and below, and in the most advanced packaging schemes, an entirely new metric may be needed to address the multiplier effect of how thermal density increasingly turns minor issues into major problems.

2nd place is another of my RISC-V stories – Why RISC-V Is Succeeding. There is no disputing the excitement surround the introduction of the RISC-V processor architecture. Yet while many have called it a harbinger of a much broader open-source hardware movement, the reasons behind its success are not obvious, and the implications for an expansion of more open-source cores is far from certain.

But way out in front is Ann Steffora Mutschler’s story Chip Design Shifts As Fundamental Laws Run Out Of Steam. Dennard scaling is gone, Amdahl’s Law is reaching its limit, and Moore’s Law is becoming difficult and expensive to follow, particularly as power and performance benefits diminish. And while none of that has reduced opportunities for much faster, lower-power chips, it has significantly shifted the dynamics for their design and manufacturing.

Now you may ask why I only provided a top 9 rather than 10. That is because a big shoutout has to go to Jesse Allen for her monthly startup funding reports. Many of those would make the top 10 every month. There is no other report that covers the breadth and depth contained in this huge piece of work, including what is happening in China.

So there you have it for this year. Just like previous years, when in the year a story was published is not that important. For example, Ann’s top article was published in October.

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