Tag Archive for WDC

Can Toshiba Stay in Business?

Can Toshiba Stay in Business?Updated 06-22-2017 – As predicted below, the NYT reports that the Japanese government formed a coalition including the US venture capital firm Bain Capital to buy Toshiba’s microchip division. Estimates are the deal is worth approx. $20 Billion.

Toshiba is being driven to sell off its crown jewel, its microchip business, to stabilize the international giant. The New York Times reports that the stalwart of Japan’s postwar rise as a global industrial giant warned that its has doubts over whether it could stay in business. In a filing in Japan, Toshiba said it wrote off more than $6 billion connected to Westinghouse Electric’s troubled nuclear reactor projects in the United States, had created “substantial uncertainty” over its ability to continue as a going concern.

ToshibaThe Toshiba microchip division is the number two global provider of NAND flash memory. NAND flash memory is a type of non-volatile storage technology that does not need power to retain data. Flash memory is electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.

Toshiba originally invented flash memory in the early 1980s from EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory). They introduced it to the market in 1984. Called flash memory, after the flash on a camera, the chips have become an essential building blocks of the modern electronics industry.

WestinghouseThe two main types of flash memory are named after the NAND and NOR logic gates. The individual flash memory cells have internal characteristics similar to those of the corresponding gates.

Where EPROMs had to be completely erased before being rewritten, NAND-type flash memory may be written and read in blocks (or pages) which are generally smaller than the entire device. NOR-type flash allows a single machine word (byte) to be written—an erased location—read independently.

NAND flash memoryThe NAND type operates primarily in memory cards, USB flash drives, some solid-state drives, and similar products for general storage and transfer of data. NAND or NOR flash memory is also often used to store configuration data in many digital products, a task previously made possible by EEPROM or battery-powered static RAM. One key disadvantage of flash memory is that it can only endure a relatively small number of write cycles in a specific block.

Toshiba manufactures its NAND Flash Memories at its Yokkaichi Operations to maintain quality.

Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) is the biggest maker of flash memory chips, followed by Toshiba, SK Hynix and U.S.-based Micron Technology (MU).

many as 12 companies have approached Toshiba with proposalsA sale of Toshiba’s chip business, while offering the business a lifeline, would take away its most successful business — and, more broadly, would represent a shift of a major technology away from Japan, depending on the buyer. The Toshiba sale is still in its early stages, and the NYT say as many as 12 companies have approached Toshiba with proposals. Reports are that Toshiba is asking bidders to value its operations at about $17.6 billion (2 trillion yen), and make at least a 50 percent investment.

One of the better-known suitors is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. Foxconn is the assembler of Apple (AAPL) iPhones and is world’s largest contract electronics maker. Foxconn is based in Taiwan but performs most of its manufacturing in mainland China. According to the article Foxconn could pay billions to buy the business.

offered $27 billionSources told Japanese public broadcaster NHK the first round of the Toshiba auction drew 10 offers. Toshiba has narrowed the field of bidders for its chip unit to four: U.S. chipmaker Broadcom (AVGO), a private equity firm Silver Lake Partners which reportedly offered $18 billion; SK Hynix; Western Digital (WDC); and Foxconn (2354), reports say Foxconn offered $27 billion.

Apple is considering teaming up with its supplier Foxconn to bid for Toshiba semiconductor business, Japan’s NHK reported. Apple is considering investing at least several billion dollars to take a stake of more than 20 percent as part of a plan that would have Toshiba keep a partial holding so the business remains under U.S. and Japanese control, NHK reported.

The authors point out Toshiba’s situation is a remarkable turnabout for Japan, a country that once controlled the majority of microchip markets. In the past Japanese companies have banded together to rescue flailing domestic rivals and not let them fold or be acquired by foreigners.

BankersThe article speculates that the Japanese government may cobble together a “team Japan” offer, but the response from potential participants — who would have to explain the spending to shareholders — has been tepid. “It is fundamentally unthinkable that the Industry Ministry would intervene and take some kind of action,” Hiroshige Seko, the industry minister, said at a news conference, further dampening expectations.

Mark Newman, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, argued in a report that Toshiba’s memory business remained valuable enough that selling it amounted to “selling the crown jewels to pay next month’s rent.”

Apple teaming up with its supplier Foxconn to bid for ToshibaJapanese politicians and industry leaders have voiced concerns over Chinese investors’ buying advanced chip production technology; semiconductors and memory are a major priority of China’s industrial policy. That could hinder any deal with Foxconn, said Mr. Newman, of Sanford C. Bernstein.

The worry is that Foxconn “would build huge fabs in China,” Mr. Bernstein said, referring to semiconductor fabrication plants. “The jobs would move to China from Japan, and furthermore China would go after market share at the expense of crushing industry economics, so the U.S., Taiwan, Korea, Japan all get hurt substantially by this arrangement.” Foxconn has been successful in attracting subsidies from the Chinese government to build large-scale production facilities in China.

The article speculates that Foxconn could take the Toshiba technology and manufacture it more cheaply in China. Such a move could drive down pricing for memory, a boon for Apple and low-cost Chinese smartphone makers. But it would also propel China forward in its long push to become internationally competitive in semiconductors. Mr. Newman has warned that competition in NAND chips could heat up next year, creating the possibility of oversupply and putting more pressure on Toshiba’s ability to put in effect next-generation technologies.

Ralph Bach has been in IT for a while and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

New Disk Drives Degrade XP

IBM 350 disk storage unit The International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA), the industry group which promotes the technological, manufacturing, marketing, and business needs of the disk drive industry, is leading the Big Sector initiative to update computer hard disk drives from 512 bytes to 4,096 bytes (4 Kilobytes) sectors.

IDEMA claims the need to change the hard drive sector size which has been consistent for thirty years, developed as hard disk sizes grew. The old 512 b sectors 4 Kb sectorlimited the amount of error correction required to handle more data on the newest drives.  Dr. Martin Hassner of Hitachi GST said: “(The) increasing areal density of newer magnetic hard disk drives requires a more robust error correction code (ECC), and this can be more efficiently applied to 4096 byte sector lengths” in a 2006 TechWorld article.  According to the trade group, the change to 4 Kb sectors will allow hard drives to continue to grow to 2 Tb in size.

Western DigitalWestern Digital (WDC) is the first manufacturer to release products under this initiative. WD calls these drives Advanced Format. According to an article at AnandTech, In order to reach the 2 Tb size Western Digital and other drive manufacturers have developed a 512 b emulator which resides on the drive controller for the Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 5.x family (Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Windows Home Server) which are unaware of 4 Kb sectors.

AnandTech says the emulators will allow Windows 5.x systems to continue to think they are seeing 512 b but there are still problems. The article reports that the Windows 5.x family has a habit of misaligning the first disk partition under the new system which will result in poor default performance. The Windows 6.x family (Vista, 2008, Win7) and later are programmed to take in to account the alignment issues. This also creates issues for imaging software. Drive imaging software like Norton’s Ghost need to be 4 Kb aware. Otherwise it may inadvertently create misaligned partitions with any Windows product.  The article claims that all current imaging products will write misaligned partitions and/or clusters.

Linux and Apple (AAPL) Mac OS X are not affected by this issue. Western Digital has tested modern versions of both operating systems, and officially classifies them as not-affected. They also found that Linux and Mac OS X drive imaging products are also unaffected.

Western Digital is offering two solutions to solve the misalignment issue. The first solution is specifically geared towards Win 5.x. The first option is to use an offset created by jumpering pins on an Advanced Format drive. This will force the drive controller will use a +1 offset. This crude hack means the operating system is no longer writing to the sector it thinks its writing to. Jumpering is simple to activate and effective in solving the issue on a PC with a single partition. If multiple partitions are installed this hack cannot be used because the offset can damage later partitions. The offset can not be later removed without repartitioning the drive, because that would break the partition table.

The second method of resolving misaligned partitions is through the use of Western Digital’s WD Align utility available online from WD. The utility moves a partition and its data from a misaligned to an aligned position. This is the recommended solution for using multiple partitions under Win 5.x, along with correcting any misaligned partitions generated by imaging software. The utility also serves as the only way to find an Advance Format drive without physically looking at it.

AnandTech calls the WD Align utility the recommended solution for single-partition drives being used under Win 5.x too, since it prevents breaking the partition table. The amount of time needed to run the utility depends on the amount of data that needs to be moved and not the partition size (it simply ignores empty space), so it’s best to run the utility immediately after creating a partition or installing Windows, as there’s less data to move around.

WD Green Cavier HDDThe first Advanced Format drives are WD Caviar Green drives using multiple 500GB platters which are now available. There are two ways to these drives : 1) They all have 64 Mb of cache – the first WD Caviar Green drives to come with that much cache; and 2) They all have EARS in the drive model number, e.g. WD10EARS.

It seems that WD is not pushing these drives as part of any major product launch. The new drives are quietly entering the marketplace. The IDEMA plan called for everyone to have 4 Kb sector drives by 2011, so there will be similar soft-launches from the other manufacturers over the next year.  It  is reasonable to expect all the HDD manufacturers to have similar problems with Win 5.x,  All of the vendors will have to support WinXP, in one way or another until at least 2014, when extended MS support for WinXP ends.