Today’s consumers increasingly demand smaller, lighter, and more state-ofthe art portable electronics packed with a rich functionality. Manufacturers have been up to the task by continuing to push the next level of technological sophistication. To keep pace with technological requirements, semiconductor device suppliers maximise integration capability with both silicon and the latestgeneration packaging technologies needed to answer these rapid market changes.
Such consumer demand is accelerating convergence, as more sophisticated products combine mobile-phone, digitalcamera, music-player, wireless e-mail, and portable videogame functions into one application— a widening standard in the marketplace. This trend will lose traction only if performance, cost, and size are unable to meet the burgeoning consumer demands over previous product generations.
This interplay between consumer and next-generation applications has fueled the rapid technology development seen within the semiconductor products industry. It’s also staged the evolution of various technology solutions required to satisfy the balance of performance, time-to-market (design complexity), and costs to drive these economies.
The latest highly integrated multimedia DSPs/microprocessors, integrated power-conversion ICs, camera imaging devices, and data-interface ICs are but a few examples of a long list of products resulting from the balance between performance (battery life, features) and cost. But dramatic transformations in packaging technology have created solutions that answer the call for greater space savings and performance.
Perhaps, the area of the semiconductor industry that’s been most affected by this dynamic is power management. As the convergence of features directly increases static power consumption, design teams must identify all opportunities to optimise power management within the circuit itself. That’s because today’s battery technologies can’t innovate enough to satisfy the power-hungry functionality contained in today’s applications. It’s clear that until the promise of next-generation, higher-density portable energy sources becomes reality (such as cost-effective and environmentally safe fuel cells), designers must conserve power wherever possible. Meanwhile, semiconductor suppliers must continue to offer solutions to solve this dilemma.
Let’s take, for example, the handsets from the early 1990s that used 1000mA-hr NiMH batteries and first-generation chip sets. These products had seven segment displays, limited memory for storing addresses, and talk times of less than one hour. And that’s about the extent of it. These products exhibited three to four times the volume of today’s mainstream product offerings.
But let’s consider the integration capability and power-management circuits that enable/ control the powering of digital cameras, PDA functions, highresolution colour TFT displays, gaming, etc. What drives this is integration of power circuits and functions along with spacesaving packages. Older products packed in hundreds of discrete components while today’s products, which demand integration for size and cost reasons, use a fraction of that component count.
The impact created by the integration push can be seen, for example, in the power-switch arena. Over the course of a number of years, the handset and portable industries have consumed literally billions of standard MOSFETs. And in these same circuits, analogue functionality is required to control these MOSFETs and conserve power in circuits.
Today, companies like Fairchild Semiconductor offer power switches that combine standard power MOSFETs with integrated functions to provide protection, control, and powermanagement blocks in one product. Historically, this level of functionality required many more components. The latest packaging technology of bumped and moulded packaging highlight the ongoing trend toward reduced size and enhanced thermal performance.
Such integration is required for two reasons: to support the high level of functionality and power management, and because modern highly functional products come in form factors a fraction of the size, weight, and thickness than that of their predecessors (Fig. 1).
A prime example of this is IntelliMAX (Fig. 2), which typically uses seven to eight discrete components. Now, however, it can be implanted with one device using a fraction of the board space. And with new package technology, it offers a lower profile than was available just three to five years ago.
To fuel the next step in product convergence, size, and performance, power-semiconductor suppliers must work closely with power designers to clearly define tradeoffs that will optimise power solutions for each of the end product’s requirements. This process ensures the right performance, right features, and the right cost to meet consumer demands and continue the aggressive migration toward convergence and mobility. Semiconductor suppliers like Fairchild Semiconductor must continue to find every opportunity to integrate functionality that will facilitate the management of power in a highly integrated fashion—even in traditional discrete applications like power switching.