The fact that China’s most important container ports are only operating at half power and that we are probably heading for the next global supply disaster is extremely worrying, but it is not even the reason for the component problem discussed here in the second part. But first let us come to the general situation. Due to a recent outbreak of coronavirus in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the Chinese authorities have reintroduced very strict Covid 19 measures.
This has already led to significant backlogs in four major ports, where currently only half of the capacity (and less) can be used and where many ships already have to lie in outer roads and are also starting to jam there. That’s the really bad news, because the whole supply chains are probably going to be pretty permanently affected by this again. Such major problems, of course, mask the specific day-to-day concerns of manufacturers when it comes to matters of detail. And that’s exactly what I want to talk about again, because there are new dark clouds on the component horizon.
Multiplexer chips with shortage?
Similar to the combined USB-C and Power Delivery controllers (PD chips) for USB-C and Thunderbolt 4, the forecast for another component has revealed problems, even if there is no acute shortage (“shortage”) yet, but so far it is only a real consideration, but one that should definitely be included in the upcoming plans. And again, it’s Thunderbolt that these new problems revolve around. If Thunderbolt was almost always connected to the dGPU or to the iGP if no dedicated graphics unit was installed, everything should now be better and more flexible with Thunderbolt 4 (TBT4). This is certainly to be welcomed and very laudable, but it requires additional components that are unlikely to be infinitely available. In any case, the hint was already given that one would also have to be prepared for this or think about it.
Video transport demultiplexing/multiplexing and signal conditioning for dual-mode DisplayPort 1.4 in PCs, workstations and other high-resolution video device applications require specialized chips. So what’s so different about Intel laptops than AMD ones? Intel’s current wonder weapon is called MUX inception, which is the ability to switch signals. On AMD notebooks, you’ll find a multiplexer at most on the external DisplayPort (eDP), but no MUX inception on the USB Type-C as Intel has solved. AMD’s USB-C ports are simply tethered to the dGPU and done. The fact that Intel remains more flexible here is certainly a certain advantage for the user, but for the manufacturers it is horror.
What we are talking about are the so-called multiplexers, e.g. a PS8461 from Parade. This is a multiplexing or “mux” chip that allows selection between one of two dual-mode DisplayPort inputs, which are jitter-cleaned and repeated at the output. This PS8461 2:1 mux is ideal for PC systems that use multiple graphics processors because it allows you to select which graphics processor drives a video output port or an embedded display. The PS8461 can also be used in displays or docking stations to select alternative video inputs. The picture above shows us first of all how such a MUX chip works.
Other suppliers include Realtek, Genysis and Cypress, but we already know from Cypress that everything with at least one contact surface is currently in short supply. Interestingly, TBT4 supports two parallel DP signals, so you would probably need twice the number of multiplexers for a laptop. As written, it’s not extremely acute yet, but could be soon. And then even the notebooks produced up to that point are no longer of any use if the ports remain closed. The situation is simply not getting any better and there is no relief in sight, not least because of the new pandemic situation in China.