Chip Biz Buzzwords

I am definitely an insider. I know all the buzzwords and actually able to make sense out of them.

It’s no surprise that everyone in the Valley is so comfortable with insider and exclusionary code words, many of which make no sense.

by John C. Dvorak

Every business has its share of buzzwords and terms that help insiders spot other insiders and members of the milieu. It’s useful to throw these terms around arbitrarily so others who may be lurking can identify you as a fellow traveler (or, conversely, someone they want to avoid).

Years ago there was a cultlike personal growth training system called EST (Erhard Seminars Training). One of its catch phrases was, “They don’t ‘get’ it!” It was code for outsiders not in the loop. The term still lingers in Silicon Valley, which was heavily caught up in this cult and many of its ideas. So it’s no surprise that everyone in the Valley is so comfortable with insider and exclusionary code words, many of which make no sense.

One of the great businesses in history is the semiconductor industry, and it set the standard for code words and code words within code words. Here is a partial guide to the typical terms you’ll hear, and what they generally mean.

One of these words—”chip”—has become accepted by the public at large and serves no useful purpose as a term of exclusion anymore.

The roadmap At first glance, if someone told you they had the Intel roadmap, you’d think it was driving instructions on how to find the offices. But no, the roadmap is a code word meaning a chart or diagram that shows the generational outline and development schedule of upcoming chips in the form of a time line. It should probably have a better name than “roadmap.”
The campus You’d think this had something to do with school, no? But this is actually the compound of buildings that house most of a company. It should be called an office park or compound.

The process This is usually used in conjunction with either the size of the chip trace lines, such as the 42nm process, or as a generality referring to the overall manufacturing process type, such as the CMOS process.

The strategic partners
This term peaked when Intel announced the Itanium microprocessor. The idea was to make an announcement and then sucker any number of other companies to do a simultaneous press release saying that they are in bed with you and think this announcement of yours is just fabulous. It’s fallen out of vogue since it can be embarrassing, which is what it was with the Itanium.

Parts This generic term is used by the semiconductor industry as a synonym for “chip.” You’ll hear a sentence such as “Do they make all the parts for it?” This actually means “Do they make all the chips for the product?” It’s got nothing to do with parts such as screws and the printed circuit boards.

Glue/support chips These are the chips (parts) needed to make the centerpiece chip, usually a microprocessor, work. I have never been able to tell what sort of person uses the word “glue chip” as opposed to those who use “support chip.”

PIN-COMPATIBLE This means a chip that fits into the socket (see below) meant for another chip. It implies that the chip is compatible with the chip that was originally designed for the socket.

Socket The receptacle for a plug-in chip, usually a microprocessor.

Architecture An outsider would immediately think this was about buildings. But in Silicon Valley, the sentence “What do you think about the architecture” would almost always bring to mind the inner workings and design of a microprocessor or an entire computer. Each company has an architecture, and the term Intel architecture, for example, is generally used to describe its version of a microsprocessor, or it is sometimes a synonym for the x86 architecture in general.

Code name In the semiconductor business, code names are commonly used not to hide or conceal a product under development but to describe products that have no official name. This sort of convention is also used by software companies such as Microsoft.

Wafers These are not cookies but slices of a silicon crystal that has been specially doped with contaminants to become the foundation for a semiconductor “chip.” The wafer, which tends to be 300mm in size (but isn’t always) could have hundreds of chips etched onto its surface.

Fab A truncation of the word “fabrication,” it refers to a factory or fabrication plant that manufacturers semiconductors. It consists of a long line of extremely expensive precision equipment into which a blank wafer is introduced at one end and is processed and eventually chopped up to make individual chips. Today’s fabs often cost over $1 billion to build.

There are even more terms than these, but consider this a basic bluffer’s guide to get you through most geeky conversations. Ask someone how much wafers cost nowadays, and watch them go off! Have fun.

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