Semiconductor Trends From CES

January 7, 2022 / Ben Bajarin

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This year at CES, many of the dominant semiconductor companies, including four in my Silicon Big 5 list, showcased their latest solutions for 2022. When it came to core computing devices, both AMD and Intel showcased their latest chips for notebooks and desktops. But, what I found most fascinating from both these companies was a renewed emphasis on performance per watt. Looking back at both these companies’ roadmaps from the last few years, they were both fighting it out with more of an emphasis on performance when it comes to their architecture designs. And, the last few years have been a showcase in the performance capabilities of both these companies. But Apple entering the market with M1, and more specifically M1 Pro and Max, has led to a competitive environment where both AMD and Intel needed to bring performance per watt back to the center stage. 

I made mention of the 16″ Macbook Pro with M1 Max in my favorite tech of 2021 column a few weeks ago. The primary reason I listed the Mac over so many amazing Windows machines I got to try last year was because of Mac’s battery life. Macs running the M1 are like the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going. Many of the Windows machines I used last year, including standouts like the Surface Laptop Studio, shined when it came to performance. Battery life ~8-9 hours was also not too bad, but it is not the 14-16 hours I consistently get with MacBook Pro and M1 Max. But, if Intel and AMD’s latest performance mobile parts do what the companies claim, 14 + hours may be the standard battery life for all notebooks in the future. 

The reason for this is the emphasis back to performance per watt. The M1 Max at peak performance can reach ~60-70 watts. In my own usage and tracking, even rendering 4k video didn’t push the M1 Max past 50 watts. Having a good sense of the impact on battery life with a range of power draw, it is encouraging that both AMD’s 6000 series chips and Intel’s 12th gen chips can keep peak performance wattage below 75 watts per the companies claims. With their 6000 chips being made on TSMC 6nm process, AMD may see slightly better performance per watt, but we will have to wait and see once real-world testing becomes available. AMD did make a claim that they expect notebooks running on their newest silicon platform to achieve 25 hours of battery life. 

This trend has been a long time coming. And I am glad the thriving competition from AMD, Apple, Intel, and Qualcomm has led to an environment where the next few years will bring some of the best performance and battery life the industry has ever seen in notebooks. 

Automotive is the Next Big Semiconductor Battleground
The automotive industry is going through a digital transformation, and it is happening fast. Again, driven by competition from Tesla, CES saw the launch of dozens of car brands laying out their products and plans for electric vehicles, including a wide range of technological features like driver assist, onboard entertainment, and more. 

A useful data point is to understand some of the economics of semiconductor content in cars. In 2015, globally, there was an average of $310 of semiconductor content in an automobile. In 2020, that number only grew to $460. Estimates are in 2025, and semiconductor content will be in the range of $700 and grow to over $1000 of semi content by 2030. This dollar amount of semi-content in automotive would make it the second-largest category for semiconductor dollars after the lucrative data-center market, which is estimated to be a whopping $5000 of semiconductor BOM in 2025. This is why we can expect data centers and automobiles to be the main growth areas many semiconductor companies will focus on. 

The list of semiconductor companies that will provide solutions to automotive companies is long, but there are three I think are in a position to capture more of the BOM of that $600-1000 of anticipated semi content in automotive. Those companies are Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel. Each company shared product roadmaps for automotive that included platforms and solutions for modern-day EVs around ADAS (which includes a wide range of safety features) and entertainment features and options. The latter highlights how important the in-car experience, from everything to entertainment options and visual UI, will be and how those are areas where car companies will look to differentiate their offerings. 

One interesting aspect I’m watching with the growing relationship between automotive companies and tech companies is how much of the semiconductor supply chain car companies want to manage. I’m genuinely curious if a car company will just pick a company like Nvidia, Intel, or Qualcomm and use as many of their solutions as they can or if they will piece together solutions from all three and more who provide a wide range of offerings. One could argue it is easier to just buy from one sole vendor but that also leads to a potential lock-in that I suspect automotive companies are concerned about.

Lastly, I think it is important to bear in mind that while people are getting hung up on future ideas like the “metaverse” and “web3”, real life-changing innovations happening over the next few years will bring great value to consumers. Not just automotive, but the coming digital transformation of healthcare like remote diagnostics and monitoring and remote visitations. Transformation of retail around digital and more streamlined and assisted in-store shopping, checkout, and more.  I am personally more excited about these practical innovations than buzzword technology. For some, the innovation in these areas may not be terribly exciting but for the masses, it will be extremely useful. 

 

 

 

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