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The top semiconductor companies

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It was no surprise that Intel is the perennial king of the hill. It had some miscues last year but, given its market dominance, won't be unseated anytime soon (see "Doomsday Deflected," March 2005).

What's happened in the next nine positions is more interesting. In 2002 Samsung abruptly moved into second place, after being in fifth place in 2001, and has held the position ever since. Last year the company grew by 52 percent—a remarkable achievement for such a large company (see "Aiming for the Top," August 2004). Samsung now pulls in more than half as much revenue as Intel.
Recently Texas Instruments moved into the No. 3 position. Last year its revenues grew by 30 percent, demonstrating the company's strength—a big turnaround from the disappointments of the 1980s, when the company was having trouble selling memory chips and personal computers (see "Unmixed Signals").

So who got bumped out of second and third place? Five years ago, two Japanese giants—NEC and Toshiba—held the No. 2 and 3 positions, respectively. If you turn to page 52 of this issue, you'll see that NEC has dropped to ninth position, with Toshiba in seventh position. Clearly, these companies are still strong, but they haven't grown as some of the others on the list have.

Similarly, Hitachi and Mitsubishi hovered around the sixth and 11th positions in the late 1990s. After that, the two giant Japanese chip makers began moving down the list until April 2003. That's when the two companies merged most of their non-DRAM chip assets into a new entity—Renesas, which instantly became the fourth-largest semiconductor company (see "Renesas Merges East and West," November 2004). It remains the only Japanese company in the top five at this point.

Two European companies have taken their places. Infineon Technologies has moved up to fourth place, from eighth place (see "Infineon Redux," March 2004). STMicroelectronics also grew rapidly, moving up from 10th place to fifth place.

If you look farther down the list, you will see other changes. Five years ago, there were no foundries or fabless companies in the top 20. Now TSMC is the eighth- and UMC is the 17th-largest semiconductor company on our list, with Chartered moving into the top 50 this year. Qualcomm became the first fabless company to break into the top 20 in 2004 (see "Riding the Big Wireless Wave," July 1, 2003).

We'll keep tracking these changes. I have a feeling that the next five years will bring even more.

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