Business Strategies

Why are NAND Flash Fabs so Huge?

NAND Economies of ScaleMany readers have probably wondered why NAND flash fabs are so enormous.  Although DRAM fabs used to be the largest, running around 60,000 wafers per month, NAND flash fabs now put that number to shame, running anywhere from 100,000-300,000 wafers per month.  Why are they so huge?

The reason is that you need to run that many wafers to reach the optimum equipment balance.  The equipment must be balanced or some of it will be sitting idle, and with some tools costing $50 million (immersion scanners) you want to minimize their idle time to the smallest possible number.  I am sure that this is a tough problem, although I have never had to solve it myself.

The most important reason that so much attention is focused on this is that the cost of the wafer depends on the efficiency of the fab.  If you built a $13 billion NAND flash fab that produced 90,000 wafers per month instead of 100,000 wafers per month, then the amount of investment per wafer would be 10% higher.  That can make a significant difference to Continue reading

Making Sense of Intel & Micron’s XPoint Breakup

Micron-Intel 3D XPoint Memory InternalsOn Monday, July 16, Intel and Micron announced the termination of the two companies’ 3D XPoint Memory development efforts.  The companies will complete development of the second-generation product after which the IMFT Lehi, Utah facility will continue to manufacture the product but the two companies will no longer co-develop new versions of the 3D XPoint Memory.

Most readers haven’t been watching this business as carefully as The Memory Guy, and are puzzled by the move.  I will share what I know in an attempt to make the decision a little clearer.

Three years ago in July 2015 the two companies held an event to launch 3D XPoint Memory technology.  This upcoming technology would be 1,000 times faster than flash, and provide 1,000 times the endurance, on a chip that was 10 times as dense as “Standard Memory,” which everyone was to infer was DRAM.  This last implied that the technology would sell for a lower price than DRAM, and that’s the most important way that a technology that’s slower than DRAM can gain acceptance in a Continue reading

How to Worsen a DRAM Shortage

Fuzhou Intermediate People's CourtIn an interesting twist to today’s ongoing DRAM shortage, the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court, Fujian Province, China today granted a preliminary injunction to prevent Micron’s Chinese subsidiaries from manufacturing, selling, or importing certain DRAM modules and solid state drives in China.

This injunction, according to a Micron press release, was filed without allowing Micron to present its defense, a process which Micron finds to be: “inconsistent with providing a fair hearing through appropriate legal processes and procedures.”

Micron’s customers in China will find that the DRAM shortage has just become even worse than it already was.  Before today China’s government was concerned enough about the shortage’s rising DRAM prices to have launched a price fixing investigation only one month ago.  One result of today’s decision will be that there will be less DRAM in China, and that will probably cause prices to rise even more.

What will be the impact to Micron?  I find it unlikely that this injunction is likely to change any DRAM maker’s business much during a shortage.  Any lack of Micron DRAM in China is likely to be serviced by Samsung and SK hynix, but since there’s a shortage, these companies will need to reduce their shipments outside of China to satisfy Continue reading

Ron Neale To Share Posts

Ron NealeThe Memory Guy is pleased to begin publishing posts from Ron Neale.  Ron is a specialist in phase-change memory (PCM or PRAM) who has been contributing a lot of analysis of this technology in EE Times.

Ron’s career has centered around phase-change memory.  He was the lead author for the groundbreaking 1970 PCM article in Electronics Magazine, co-authored by Intel’s Gordon Moore (of Moore’s Law fame) introducing the world’s first PCM, a 256-bit device.

Now that the Intel/Micron 3D XPoint Memory has been revealed to use the same technology as Numonyx’ NOR-compatible PCMs, Ron’s analysis of this technology is especially poignant.

Look for posts that feature his keen insight on the technology, its particular challenges, and the ways that PCM is applied to practical problems in advance computing.

Wafer Shortages and DRAM/NAND

Mark Thirsk, Linx ConsultingRecently I have been hearing concerns that an impending wafer shortage might drive today’s DRAM and NAND flash shortages to epic proportions.

The Memory Guy doesn’t pretend to have any understanding of the raw wafer business, so I decided to consult Mark Thirsk, managing partner of Linx Consulting.  Mark has been in this industry for quite a while and has a very good understanding of the ongoing status of the semiconductor materials supply chain.

Mark and I were on a panel together at SEMICON Korea in February, and he presented an interesting chart to compare the costs of different technologies.  I asked him about this chart as well.

Here’s what Mark had to say:

“Our information is that major Continue reading

New Report Details NVDIMM Market

Objective Analysis NVDIMM Report 2017 CoverObjective Analysis has just released a new report covering the nonvolatile dual inline memory module (NVDIMM) market in detail.  This report, Profiting from the NVDIMM Market, explains the What, How, Why, & When of today’s and tomorrow’s NVDIMM products.

My readers know that I have been watching this market for some time, and that I am always perplexed as to whether to post about NVDIMMs in The Memory Guy or in The SSD Guy, since these products straddle the boundary between memory and storage.  This time my solution is to publish posts in both!

The Objective Analysis NVDIMM market model reveals that the market for NVDIMMs is poised to grow at a 105% average annual rate to nearly 12 million units by 2021.  This finding is based on a forecast methodology that has provided many of the most consistently-accurate forecasts in the semiconductor business.  This forecast, and the report itself, were compiled through exhaustive research into the technology and the events leading up to its introduction, vendor and user interviews, and briefings from standards bodies.

This 80-page in-depth analysis examines all leading NVDIMM types and forecasts their unit and revenue shipments through 2021.  Its 42 figures and 14 tables help Continue reading

Did Toshiba REALLY Lose 3-6 Weeks’ Production?

Toshiba's Fab 5 in YokkaichiYesterday The Memory Guy learned of an amazing article in DigiTimes about a 3-6 week shutdown at Toshiba’s Yokkaichi NAND flash fab line.  According to the story Toshiba’s production was shut down for 3-6 weeks accounting for a production loss of 100,000 wafers.  Another article in PC Games N converted that to lost bytes and came up with the number 400,000 terabytes.

Some quick math shows the errors in both of these articles.

First of all, the wafer stoppage.  The Toshiba/SanDisk Yokkaichi Joint Venture wafer fabrication complex processes a little over 2 million wafers per year.  Divide that by 52 weeks and you find that’s about 40,000 wafers per week, so 100,000 wafers would be 2.5 weeks’ output, not 3-6 weeks.

The number of bytes that PC Games N published takes a little more math.  According to TechInsights Toshiba’s 15nm 128Gb MLC chip has an area of 99mm².  That gets you a little over 10TB/wafer.  The company’s 48-layer TLC 256Gb part should produce about twice that.  Yet, if you divide PC Games’ Continue reading

Toshiba Decides to Split Off Memory Business

Toshiba Revenue HistoryIn a letter to shareholders released today, Toshiba finally clarified its plans for restructuring the company.  Since January 18 there have been numerous rumors that Toshiba planned to spin its memory business off or sell it outright.  Today’s letter indicates that this hasn’t been decided yet.  In fact, other than to call a late March shareholder vote and to reveal a restructuring, the letter discloses extraordinarily little.

In a nutshell Toshiba has decided to isolate the memory business (including the SSD business but not the HDD and image sensor businesses) into a separate wholly-owned subsidiary.  There was no mention of either the recently-shrinking Discrete business or the System LSI business, which has been in a steady decline for the past decade.  Click on this post’s graphic to see how each of the company’s semiconductor businesses has been doing.

The intent appears to be to groom the subsidiary to be spun off or sold, but this has not been expressly stated.  Instead Toshiba simply states that: “The Company is still considering various structures with a view to an injection of third-party capital.”

The letter reiterates Toshiba’s prior position that the memory business Continue reading

US Plans Response to China’s Chip Plan

Presidential SealOn its way out the door the Obama Administration put together a proposed response to China’s plans to invest $150 billion in the semiconductor market over the next five years.  It seems that US semiconductor industry views China’s investment as a threat to its position in the market.

Last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) delivered a 25-page Report to the President entitled: “Ensuring Long-Term U.S. Leadership in Semiconductors.”

You might ask: “Who is PCAST?”  The organization states its mission in this paragraph: “The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. PCAST is consulted about, and often makes policy recommendations concerning, the full range of issues where understandings from the domains of science, technology, and innovation bear potentially on the policy choices before the President.”

PCAST has a small Semiconductors Working Group whose elite members include Continue reading

Intel Developer Forum – Not Much 3D XPoint Progress

IDF16 FaceAfter a big 3D XPoint launch one year ago almost anyone would expect for Intel to have had a lot of exciting new news to share about the technology at last week’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF).  Those who were watching for that, though, were in for a disappointment.

For readers who don’t remember, Intel and its partner, chipmaker Micron Technology, announced a new memory layer in July 2015 that would enable in-memory databases to expand well beyond the constraints posed by standard DRAM memory. The pair also boasted the additional benefit of being nonvolatile or persistent – data would not be lost if the power failed.  This technology promised to open new horizons in the world of computing.

Intel devoted a lot of effort to promotion and education during the following month’s IDF, and even demonstrated a prototype 3D XPoint SSD that performed seven to eight times as fast as Intel’s highest-performance existing NAND flash SSD – the DC S3700.  Although a DIMM form factor was disclosed, no prototypes were on hand.  Both were given the brand name “Optane”.

Moving forward one year to the 2016 IDF (the source of this post’s odd graphic), The Memory Guy was shown Continue reading