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Leading chipmaker says growing demand a sign of PC's health

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation boosts output in response to PC makers' fast-growing orders, made independent of last month's earthquake.

A leading chip manufacturer said demand is sweeping past projections as the company scrambles to adjust production.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), one of the largest chip producers in the world, has boosted its output in response to fast-growing orders from PC makers, according to Magnus Ryde, president of the company's operations in North America.

The clamor is largely independent of September's earthquake in Taiwan. "The demand for electronic goods is the phenomena...it's not an earthquake [-related] phenomena," Ryde said.

The tremblor caused the loss of "between two and three weeks" of chip supply and "will not be recovered," Ryde asserted. As previously reported, TSMC sustained some damage to sensitive production equipment. This equipment has now been replaced, Ryde said, adding that the company will be back to full production in two weeks at "105 percent of rated output."

"Everybody is predicting the demise of the PC but volumes [of chips] don't speak that language," Ryde said of the brisk demand.

TSMC makes chipsets, graphics chips, some specialized memory chips, and variety of other semiconductor products. Its assertion that orders are growing, not receding, suggests that the oft-predicted shift away from personal computers toward more specialized "information appliances" and other specialized devices may not be imminent after all.

TSMC is projecting that it will need to produce 2.7 million eight-inch wafers in 2000 vs. a planned 1.9 million this year and 1.2 million in 1998, Ryde said. Wafers are the building blocks for chips and are sliced up to yield many individual chips.

Ryde said that "fabless" semiconductor companies, which rely on manufacturers such as TSMC to make their chips, had forecast a 40 percent increase in demand this year, but that "demand is actually closer to 80 percent" in the second half of this year, dating back to July.

TSMC's capital expenditures for this year, including an equity stake in Acer's semiconductor operations, will have increased to about $1.4 billion versus the $640 million planned earlier this year, he said.

Ryde added, however, that real demand won't be known until after the Christmas selling season because many PC makers are ordering parts to build PCs to compete for the same customers. "They are essentially trying to sell to the same customer twice. This [real] demand won't materialize until later."

In related news, due to memory chip price hikes, some companies have been forced to react with component price hikes or have taken other measures. Compaq will increase prices of certain upgrade memory modules for notebooks, sources close to the company said today. Dell said earlier this week that it would reduce the amount of memory in some models.