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No. 361, October 1999

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American Companies in Japan


To help ensure that it remains a first-rank competitor in semiconductors as well as in cellular communications equipment, especially next-generation wideband-CDMA, MOTOROLA INC. has established its first technology center in Japan. The 10 engineers initially staffing the facility, which is located at NIPPON MO-TOROLA LTD.'s headquarters in Tokyo, are charged with tracking technological developments in the chip and wireless fields. Motorola recently agreed to buy out TOSHIBA CORP.'s half interest in TOHOKU SEMICONDUCTOR CORP. (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 360, September 1999, pp. 20-21), a move that also should help the company capitalize on emerging market opportunities in Japan.

By 2001, ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES, INC. hopes to control 30 percent-plus of Japan's processor market versus the 20 percent or so it now has. The first products in the performance-geared Athlon family are one key to the planned expansion. AMD hopes that this series of processors, available now running at clock speeds of 500 MHz, 550 MHz, 600 MHz and 650 MHz, will enable it to take sales away from the Pentium III in the high end of the desktop, server and workstation markets. The other part of AMD's strategy is to fortify its bread-and-butter business with faster and otherwise improved versions of the K6-2, which a number of big American PC manufacturers and one or two Japanese rivals have adopted for some of their low-end machines.

As early as sometime in 2000, Tokyo sources report, FUJITSU, LTD., HITACHI, LTD., MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC CORP. and NEC CORP. could roll out microcontrollers that support Sunnyvale, California-based INTEGRATED SYSTEMS, INC.'s pSOS+ operating system, a rival to Windows CE for embedded systems. The planned parts are seen as helping to unleash a new generation of portable information appliances that not only are less expensive and smaller than today's versions but that also will provide high-speed Internet access and improved word- processing capabilities as well as spreadsheet and scheduling functions.

The next home video game console from NINTENDO CO., LTD., code-named Dolphin, will feature graphics technology from S3 INC. The Santa Clara, California company's advanced S3TC texture compression technology will be embedded right on the graphics chip, which ARTX, INC. is developing for Nintendo. This chip will decompress textures automatically, enabling what is said to be a dramatic improvement in graphics performance in terms of both complexity and color without increasing programming challenges.

The first product incorporating MICROTUNE INC.'s breakthrough tuner-on-a-chip technology will be marketed by INTERNIX, INC. The Plano, Texas manufacturer's MicroTuner2000 is a dual-conversion tuner that supports the reception of multiple digital broadband standards while maintaining compatibility with analog NTSC standards. In short, it works with today's TVs and VCRs as well as with the coming generation of digital TVs, digital cable set-top boxes and converged PCs/TVs. On top of its technical achievements, the MicroTuner2000 is competitively priced, costing $20 each in quantities of 10,000 in the United States.

VCR technology has just taken a big step forward, according to C-CUBE MICROSYSTEMS INC. Through a collaborative effort with VHS inventor VICTOR CO. OF JAPAN, LTD., the Milpitas, California company's DVxplore MPEG-2 codec (coder/decoder) chip for the emerging D-VHS digital recording standard enables JVC's HM-DR10000 digital recorder to record up to 24 hours of high-quality digital video onto a single tape, undertake high-speed fast-forward and reverse seek of stored video and record directly from digital camcorders. For now, JVC's D-VHS recorders will be sold only in Japan.

Chipmaker ROHM CO., LTD. has built the state of the art in audio, represented by BBE SOUND, INC.'s signal processors, into a sound processor chip for car audio equipment and another for minicomponent stereo systems. In simplified terms, the Huntington Beach, California company's technology compensates for the loss of fidelity that occurs when music is amplified through a loudspeaker. By harnessing this power, Kyoto-based Rohm says, its single-chip BD3860K Sound Processor for car audio and BD3876KS2 Sound Processor for minicomponent stereos deliver the clear, crisp and lively sound that consumers now demand in audio equipment. The two parts are sampling now at $5.55 each.

HEWLETT-PACKARD JAPAN LTD. is forecasting annual sales of 2 million units for the HCPL- 314J half-bridge gate-drive optocoupler. This part is designed specifically for low-power motor-control inverter applications, such as air conditioners and washing machines that use inverters based on IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor) technology. It also is suitable for low-power industrial applications. The HCPL-314J is sampling for $2.00 or so each.

Over the last 18 months, Japanese wafer-fabrication facilities have awarded millions of dollars worth of orders to ASYST TECHNOLOGIES, INC., a provider of isolation, materials management, robotics and software solutions for semiconductor tool automation. Now, the Fremont, California company has positioned itself to do even more business in Japan. It agreed to acquire a minority stake in MECS CORP., a supplier of robotic systems used to automate chip and flat-panel display manufacturing tools, and to buy a majority interest in the Nagoya company once certain business milestones are achieved, a process expected to take three to six months. MECS, which has five offices across the country and employs 160 people, had revenues of $43.5 million in the year through March 1999. Once the transaction is wrapped up, MECS will handle all engineering, manufacturing and systems integration services for Asyst's isolation and automation products. The pending partners also will cooperate on product development, marketing and support for the installed base of Asyst products.

The first order for ULTRATECH STEPPER, INC.'s latest wafer stepper, the Saturn Spectrum 3, came from longtime customer CASIO COMPUTER CO., LTD. The tool, which will be installed at Casio's Core Technology Research Laboratory outside Tokyo, was developed in cooperation with the maker of chips as well as watches, calculators and other electronics products. It is designed specifically for flip-chip packaging, a technique that is starting to make inroads in the semiconductor world as line geometries shrink. According to San Jose, California-based Ultratech, the Saturn Spectrum 3 is the only stepper in the world configured with a broadband 1X optics lens. That enables automatic selection of the exposure spectrum.

STEAG RTP SYSTEMS, the world's top installer of rapid thermal processing equipment, gave CANON SALES CO., INC. exclusive rights to sell and service its RTP systems. These include the AST3000 for high-volume production using both 200mm (8-inch) and 300mm (12-inch) wafers; the AST2800e for 0.25-micron processing; the Heatpulse 8800, a third-generation RTP tool for 0.25-micron and 0.35-micron design requirements; and the STEAMpulse, which is targeted at the sub-0.25-micron market. San Jose, California-based STEAG RTP systems was formed in May after Germany's STEAG AG bought AG ASSOCIATES, INC. and merged that Sunnyvale, California company with its existing RTP operations. Canon Sales was a minority investor in AG Associates.

TOSHIBA CORP. is the latest Japanese company to take out a license for TESSERA INC.'s chip- scale packaging technology. The electronics giant will use the San Jose, California firm's Micro BGA (ball-grid array) know-how for such products as high-bandwidth Direct Rambus DRAM memories. In this application, chips can be mounted on both sides of a Rambus in-line memory module, thereby enabling module capacities of 256 MB and 288 MB.

An exchange rate of ¥108=$1.00 was used in this report.

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