back to article With computer brains in short supply, President Biden orders 100-day probe into semiconductor drought

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to do something about the semiconductor supply-chain woes that have left folks unable to obtain computer parts, system builders unable to ship PCs and game consoles, and automakers unable to manufacture vehicles. As per his instructions, his administration will start …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chips is so vague a word

    Which specific chips are used as car ECUs and were switched to Playstation production exactly..... Lays chips?

    i.e. you have to give chip makers AMD, Intel and Qualcomm, free money because otherwise car makers cannot buy Intel i9s for their pickup trucks! Or Qualcomm Snapdragons, or Ryzen 5s.... for their Sedans. Except they don't use those chips in their cars, they use application specific ECUs that have f**k all to do with the production of the people asking for the money.

    It's corporate socialism. Churches got $10 billion in bailout "loans" last year. Fake loans that don't need to be repaid and now Intel, AMD, Lays and Qualcomm want some free money too.... to help US chip production...

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Vague because... it's a news article not a judicial review

      It's going to be mostly (d) all of the above. Apple, Nvidia, AMD, Qualcomm, Broadcom, MediaTek, Xilinx, Intel etc are going to be fighting over TSMC's leading edge and not-quite-so-leading-edge, and similar fabs.

      Yes, microcontrollers aren't going to be on 7 or 5nm, they will be on something more chunky, though to me it appears these are either constrained too, to a degree, due to demand - or the things they are going into (cars, etc) are being held up because the control units need the aforementioned Qualcomm, MediaTek, Nvidia, etc chips that are in short supply.

      Plus also the stuff mentioned in the article about rare earths and batteries.

      In other words, supply chains and manufacturing are complex, with inter-dependencies and knock-on effects.

      C.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Vague because... it's a news article not a judicial review

        Intel is of course using its US based fabs for CPUs, with well-documented consequences due to the delayed shift to 10nm and absence of a 7nm capability.

        I suspect that the real issue for automotive systems is microcontrollers and chunky ARM processors for infotainment. Intel could be hurting in the sutomotive sector because products of divisions that were bought in (FPGAs, mobileye, AI) are most likely using TSMC.

        [the bigger FPGAs are made in Intel's own fabs, but the smaller devices that suit automotive applications are made by TSMC]

        1. Persona Silver badge

          Re: Vague because... it's a news article not a judicial review

          I have a car that's a couple of years old with an infotainment system that includes a 16nm Nvida Terga X2 processor fabbed by TMSC. Apparently its got a smaller Tegra X1 on 20nm too.

        2. chasil

          nation/state foundaries

          I think that the correct response would be for both the EU and the US to negotiate with Intel and/or Global Foundries for the purchase of 45nm, or perhaps 22nm facilities.

          I know that AMD/Global Foundries had semiconductor fabs both in Dresden DE, and East Fishkill, NY. Intel's Chandler, AZ site might have an older fab that they might also be willing to sell.

          We know that the US NSA has their own fab. An expansion of their management, over a buyout of East Fishkill or Chandler could guarantee 45nm production for the US automobile industry. Europe might feel the same about Dresden.

          This is a big enough problem that government(s) could/should address.

    2. msobkow

      Re: Chips is so vague a word

      Corporate socialism? Nope. It is EXACTLY THE SAME THING CHINA DID TO BUILD THEIR FAB CAPACITY.

      But as per usual, the Americans will claim that the Chinese are "evil" for doing so and the Americans are the "white hats" for stepping in to "protect" American businesses from the Chinese.

      It is all posturing and word games, with the only winners being the CEO's and directors who profit off the whole project no matter WHOSE government invests.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Chips is so vague a word

        >Corporate socialism? It is EXACTLY THE SAME THING CHINA DID TO BUILD THEIR FAB CAPACITY.

        And China is communist so therefore socialism == communism

        So we can't have transit or healthcare

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Riding the cycle

    And in a couple if years there will be a glut. All the new manufacturing capacity will be churning out "chips" so fast that their owners won't be able to give them away. Prices will drop, suppliers will go out of business as the combination of repayments on the machinery continue but profit margins become non-existent.

    This happens every few years and is not limited to semiconductors. It looks like 2025 would be a good time to buy that solar power/battery-backed system: when prices have peaked and are down to "fire sale" levels.

    Shortages raise prices. High prices mean big profits. Profits attract investment. Investment increases supply. Oversupply leads to a crash in prices. Lack of demand leads to FAB closures. Fewer FABs leads to shortages.

    And the pattern repeats Without any of the investors learning from all the times this has happened before.

    1. Greybeard_ITGuy

      Re: Riding the cycle

      Adam Smith described this back in the 1700s before any of this was invented. The Wealth of Nations is a good read even today.

  3. Russell Chapman Esq.

    Literal drought could worsen chip drought

    Read an article yesterday, somewhere in the business press, that because of a drought in Taiwan, TSMC is having to import water from other parts of the island as it's local reservoir has almost dried up. I had no idea that chip production required so much water. Fewer typhoons have been making landfall in Taiwan, which relies on them to fill up the reservoirs. If the rain shortage continues into this year, we might see TSMC having to suspend operations on the island, along with many other factories, in order for the population to have enough drinking water. There could well be a very serious chip drought, with very serious knock on effects to industries all around the world.

    I have a feeling that China is going to be watching the weather forecasts for Taiwan with great interest over the next few months.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Literal drought could worsen chip drought

      You probably read it here - https://www.theregister.com/2021/02/24/tsmc_drought/

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ......but what are these chips ACTUALLY DOING?

    Quote: President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to do something about the semiconductor supply-chain woes....admitting: "I didn’t realize how many billions of chips" were present in today's cars.

    *

    Yup......and many of these chips phoning home to the NSA, FB, Google, <your snoop of choice>......

    *

    Welcome to 1984.

    *

    What about a presidential order about REAL PRIVACY?.........No, I didn't think so!!!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: ......but what are these chips ACTUALLY DOING?

      Even a 'normal' car (one that doesn't have wireless connectivity for alerting emergency services investment entire of a crash, remote engine start up for cold mornings etc etc) has a lot of chips and sensors.

      In any case, you require a licence to drive a vehicle in most jurisdictions, and the vehicle is usually identifiable via a licence plate. As a society, we generally agree that should you run over a pedestrian then it's a good idea that you be identifiable. The privacy implications of driving a car have been discussed over decades.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: ......but what are these chips ACTUALLY DOING?

        So ideally they would spread a cloud of chips in the case of accident so when the car knocks you off your bike and then zooms off - you can trace them from all the tags left behind

    2. msobkow

      Re: ......but what are these chips ACTUALLY DOING?

      Well, if you're worried about being spied on, I suggest you get rid of any and all electronic devices including the one you're using for posting. Can't be too careful.

      Better wrap them all in aluminum foil, too. *LOL*

  5. karlkarl Silver badge

    Most chips are deep in a landfill due to planned obsolescence from shites like phone manufacturers, Apple and Microsoft.

    I am fairly convinced that we wouldn't have a shortage if manufacturers didn't artificially cripple their products. I would love to see the law change here. It is becoming painful to watch people desire defective hardware.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Your choice of examples is curious.

      Microsoft, not massive phone vendors. Apple are big phone vendors, but their stuff tends be supported for longer periods than Android devices.

      Also, you haven't examined how easily TSMC could up production of, say, AMD GPUs if they suddenly stopped making phone SOCs. You haven't examined how much of TSMC's current capacity is due to past demand for mobile phone chips. You haven't established how many people have bought a new phone because their old one has stopped working, as opposed to them just wanting a new feature.

      There's a lot if interrelated factors here, too many to be navigated by hunches.

      This pain you're feeling... you might be doing it to yourself.

      1. msobkow

        The poster's main point is, nonetheless, accurate, no matter the details of who is shipping the "planned obsolete" hardware. Bottom line is people are utter and complete MORONS for buying thousand-dollar-plus cell phones that will only be supported for a few short years.

        I buy a computer, it is supported as long as I choose to keep buying and paying for software and upgrades for it.

        But that isn't good for the "bottom line" of the greedy, who want you to spend that grand every 3-4 years.

        Aren't you glad you're only paying about $300/year for your phone hardware ON TOP of your service charges? What a BARGAIN so you can check your twitter feed while out for a walk... *LOL*

      2. karlkarl Silver badge

        "Microsoft, not massive phone vendors"

        Windows RT was perhaps the most heinous example of artificially crippling a decent ARM chip. Not only the pointless waste of environmental resources but they also set the industry back by about 5 years because of this. With fools thinking that ARM chips were the issue, rather than Microsoft's criminally locked down platform.

        "This pain you're feeling... you might be doing it to yourself."

        Not a chance. I haven't bought anything other than ex-business surplus ThinkPads for years. All of them still working. I just wish others weren't so wasteful.

        You could even consider this recent behavior to be fairly good evidence that Microsoft is by no means interested in either providing a good solution for their customers, or helping the environment: https://www.theregister.com/2021/02/24/surface_pro_7_plus_ssd/

    2. corbpm

      Supply & Demand

      If the phone makers didn't need so many chips the Fab plants wouldn't be built to make them as the demand capacity wouldn't be there.

      Imagine if they could make one phone to rule them all and it was standardized and everyone had one and they made lots of spares, why would they keep the factories/fab plants running to make them ?.

      I am fairly convinced that much of the innovation in tech is being pushed by the new/better/faster/brighter phone market, innovation that would normally in the past been created by necessity in times of war and is now powered by excessive consumerism.

  6. HammerOn1024

    So Mr. President

    I'm amused. I'm amused that after all the vitriol that you heaped upon the past administration, Mr. President, that you are finally in agreement with former president Trump concerning on-shoring of critical infrastructure after railing against it for the past 40 years.

    Granted, Trump didn't follow through as a lot of us in certain industries had hoped he would, but with all the whiners nipping at his heals and distracting his administration, it's a wonder anything at all was done about the problem.

    So let me be clear, on this particular point we agree. All else is still up for grabs.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: So Mr. President

      Trump may have beat the nationalist drum but he made the problem far worse with his focus on trying to cripple Chinese companies rather than focus on trying to improve local capability.

      We've all known that rampand offshoring was going to lead to problems -- it was never a matter of 'if' but 'when'. This situation has been brewing up for years and successive waves of offshoring have not only reduced our manufacturing capability but also our ability to ramp up that capability. This left us in a perilous position because we're now dependent on the people we spend all our time attacking. (The Chinese have actually said this directly to the UK government's face -- you can't expect to spend all your time cricizing and destabilizing a society and then expect to trade with them as equals.) Trump's heavy handed "playing to the masses" moves just pushed things over the edge. It not only caused local manufacturers to lose significant business but created an urgent need for them to cut us out of the supply chain permanently. Meanwhile our pundits have focused entirely on the leading edge chips used priamrily in smartphones -- TSMC's forte -- and completely overlooked the commodity parts needed for everything. The result is a shortage, and one I'd guess that the Chinese aren't in a hurry to remedy.

      Any fantasies about upping our capabilities over night are just that. We've got to start from the ground up. At least Biden understands this as a problem with competitiveness, not some kind of Cold War zero-sum fight to the death.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: So Mr. President

        So if we put tarrifs on Taiwanese and Korean semiconductors it will enable US companies to invest billions in building fabs state-side

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: So Mr. President

          Geopolitics aside, distributing fabs around the world would appear sensible to ensue supply to every country. There might be floods here and blackouts there, fires over yonder and an earthquake elsewhere... but hopefully not all at the same time.

          After the hard disk shortage a few years back cauusedd by flooding where their manufacture was concentrated, the manufacturers pledged to make their production chains more resilient. A few years laters, when asked how that was going, they said 'Well yeah, we looked at makkunggbthiings more resilient, but we thought it was too expensive".

          Resiliency comes at the cost of efficiency. Any company that is not efficient will be undercut by competitors. And likely go out of business. I don't know the answer to this conundrum, but I'm sure it's been studied by economists.

  7. msobkow

    I look forward to the Americans claiming that their government investment in proposed fabs is somehow different than the Chinese government's.

    Both insist on backdoors and access for their spies when required for "national security."

    Both prop up favored industries financially.

    The only difference is the US pretends that the businesses are "independent" because CEOs, executives, and "investors" take the bulk of the money that was supposed to be invested for "managing" the project. :(

  8. jason_derp Bronze badge
    Megaphone

    What

    ...top brass urged the White House to pump cash into building fabs in the United States...

    It must be nice to know you're an industry that gets paid by a government to just do your job. Shouldn't demand make it so that fabs pop up themselves? Is there no demand? Are chip manufacturers so f*cking inept that they don't understand basic economics? Then they're non-competitive. They will fail and they deserve to. Is it to keep demand high? Then somebody else should step in and take their place, be a "disruptor". Captialism + caveats, truly the American way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What

      Why don't we just invade Taiwan and take the semiconductors ?

      It's made from silicon, silicon comes out of the ground, so it's basically the same as oil and we have the right, nay the duty, to invade countries to take back our oil

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What

        Agreed with your comment completely but Mitch McConnell taught me that i can vote down while agreeing and somehow get away with it.

        Anonymous just in case I can't get away with it, as i'm probably not a Senator (probably definitely not!)

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: What

          I have voted you up while totally condemning your treasonous behaviour

  9. Marty McFly Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Car companies screwed up....

    They underestimated demand. They build cars with a just-in-time-delivery parts system. It literally takes 90 days for raw materials to become chips, it cannot be done any quicker. The car companies screwed up their estimated vehicle production, canceled chip orders, and freed up the chip manufactures to produce other products.

    In short, they gave up their place in line, and it bit them in the butt. Not government's problem to solve.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Car companies screwed up....

      And at the same time a billion people suddenly needed a laptop at home for the whole family

  10. DJ

    Got chips?

    If you think it's bad now, just wait until your #1 food/medicines/etc. supplier (China ,Inc.) decides to play the shortage card on you.

  11. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

    Tech companies secured Biden’s win in the election. Now it is his turn to pay back.

  12. hoola Silver badge

    Timescales

    Whilst this is all laudable for the long term, it will do absolutely nothing for the current problem. Maybe if people are building new plants for this they should ensure that they are not in water stressed areas either. That requires some foresight that is usually sadly lacking.

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