Goodbye, Andy Grove

Andy Grove - Only the Paranoid SurviveIt was sad to hear today of the passing of Andy Grove, Intel co-founder and former president.

Although I did not know him well, Andy was a part of my brief 1½-year stint at Intel in the early 1980s.  He played a key role in my “IOPEC” new employee training, and he and I were in cubicles on the same floor of the same Intel office building, so we would run into each other from time to time during the business day.

Plenty has been said about this man’s competence as a manager, and plenty more will be said.  He drove the creation of the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturer.

I think I was most impressed, though, when he agreed to be interviewed for a PBS television special on the history of the semiconductor industry: “Silicon Valley: American Experience” despite the fact that his battle with Parkinson’s Disease had already rendered it difficult for him to speak.

I always meant to write to him to tell him how impressed I was that he would do that.  I guess I won’t have the chance now.

Early Computer Memories

Ryszard Milewicz' photo of Core MemoryMy colleague Lane Mason found an interesting history of memories blog post that answers the question: ” What did early computers use for fast read/write storage?”

The post in the Hackaday blog, written by Al Williams, covers drum memories, the Williams Tube and its competitor the Selectron (both briefly discussed in my earlier 3D XPoint post), mercury delay lines, dekatrons, core memory (the original Storage Class Memory), plated wire memory, twistor memory, thin-film memory, and bubble memory.

It also links to interesting videos about these devices.

Think of this as a companion piece to the EE Times memory history slideshow I covered in an earlier post.  It’s a fun and educational read!

Samsung’s Colossal 128GB DIMM

Samsung_128GB TSV RDIMMIn a November 25 press release Samsung introduced a 128GB DDR4 DIMM.  This is eight times the density of the largest broadly-available DIMM and rivals the full capacity of mainstream SSDs.

Naturally, the first question is: “How do they do that?”

To get all the chips into the DIMM format Samsung uses TSV interconnects on the DRAMs.  The module’s 36 DRAM packages each contain four 8Gb (1GB) chips, resulting in 144 DRAM chips squeezed into a standard DIMM format.  Each package also includes a data buffer chip, making the stack very closely resemble either the High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM) or the Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC).

Since these 36 packages (or worse, 144 DRAM chips) would overload the processor’s address bus, the DIMM uses an RDIMM protocol – the address and control pins are buffered on the DIMM before they reach the DRAM chips, cutting the processor bus loading by an order of magnitude or more.  RDIMMs are supported by certain server platforms.

The Memory Guy asked Samsung whether Continue reading “Samsung’s Colossal 128GB DIMM”

New Report: 3D XPoint Memory

3D XPoint Report Graphic

Objective Analysis has just introduced a new report that you might want to consider: A Close Look At The Micron/Intel 3D XPoint Memory.

The report covers the Intel-Micron 3D XPoint memory and includes Intel’s new Optane support products that are based on this technology.  The report explains the technology and its special manufacturing challenges.  It includes details of how 3D XPoint memory will be used, and provides an analysis of the benefits of its persistent nature.

Forecasts project how the market will develop and include optimistic and pessimistic forecast scenarios.  Particular attention has been paid to its impact upon the DRAM, SSD, and other markets.  Finally, the report analyzes different end-market segments to predict how this technology will impact each of them.

The Memory Guy, report author Jim Handy, will present the report’s findings during the Pre-Conference Primer of the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Developer Conference (SDC) this Sunday, September 20, at 2:00 PM, In Santa Clara, CA.

This breakthrough report is based on Continue reading “New Report: 3D XPoint Memory”

Is Micron Being Acquired?

Tsinghua + Micron LogosThe following is an excerpt of an Objective Analysis Alert sent to our clients 7/13/15.

A July 13 Wall Street Journal article disclosed that China’s state-owned Tsinghua Unigroup has bid to buy Micron Technology for $21 a share or $23 billion, which would make this the largest-ever Chinese takeover of a U.S. company.

Objective Analysis has been telling our clients for the past few years that either China or India would create a new DRAM/NAND manufacturing company, especially since memory chip makers have enjoyed a long period of profits, and this usually motivates outsiders to invest in new DRAM makers.  We did not anticipate an acquisition.

Countries with heavy industry typically move into the semiconductor business during an extended upturn, and become DRAM suppliers since DRAM is an undifferentiated commodity.  Commodities sell almost solely on price and success is based on little more than manufacturing strength.  This is a business model that industrial economies understand.

In addition to Micron’s tangible assets, including Continue reading “Is Micron Being Acquired?”

Avalanche Samples MRAM

AVALANCHE TECHNOLOGY, INC. LOGO

Today Avalanche Technology announced that it is sampling MRAM, making it the world’s second company to actually produce this much-researched technology.

For those unfamiliar with MRAM, it is one of a number of technologies being positioned to replace currently-entrenched memory technologies once they reach their scaling limits.  Regular Memory Guy readers know that this juncture has been anticipated for a few decades, but always seems to get postponed.

MRAM, like many other alternative technologies, offers the promise of scaling beyond the limits of DRAM and NAND to become cheaper than ether of these technologies.  Add to this its fast write speed, low power, lack of refresh, nearly unlimited endurance, and nonvolatility, and it becomes a very compelling alternative over the long term.

As opposed to the other MRAM-maker Everspin, Avalanche’s MRAM uses Continue reading “Avalanche Samples MRAM”

DRAM Prices Down, But Not So Bad

DRAM Spot Price per GB HistoryFor the past ten months DRAM prices have been undergoing a steady slide.  Is the market in a crisis?  Not really!

Today’s low spot price of $4.30/GB puts us on a par with February 2013, a full two years ago (see chart).  DRAM makers have done a lot to reduce their production costs since that time, so their margins this quarter will be much better than they were in the first quarter of 2013.

But we are still a very long way from the bottom of the last market downturn.  In late 2012 spot prices reached a low of $2.52/GB, a full 41% lower than today’s lowest spot prices.

The Memory Guy models the production costs of leading memory chips, and DRAM manufacturing costs have been decreasing for the past several years at an average annual rate of about 30%.  That means that costs today are about half of what they were two years ago, and one third of their level this time in 2012.

So even though today’s Continue reading “DRAM Prices Down, But Not So Bad”

NAND Sourcing Changes as Supplies Tighten

A Pile of ChipsLast week Micron and IBM announced that Micron would be IBM’s main supplier of NAND flash chips.  The week before Micron announced a strategic agreement with Seagate to supply NAND flash. Why all this activity?

It comes down to today’s budding NAND flash shortage and the fact that suppliers tend to groom their customer lists when supplies get short.

Neither IBM nor Seagate represent the enormous opportunities that major consumer electronics firms like Apple do.  Since many NAND suppliers are very cost-focused they look for customers that need very little support and purchase in high volumes.

IBM and Seagate look for a lot of support, and, since they both ship mostly enterprise flash systems or SSDs, they consume relatively small unit volumes of NAND flash chips.

These companies need to have an understanding of Continue reading “NAND Sourcing Changes as Supplies Tighten”

Backing Out DRAM Process Rules

Inotera HQInotera recently announced earnings and posted an impressive 55% gross margin.  Inotera is a pure-play DRAM maker, so it’s not too difficult to estimate the company’s process geometries based on its financials.

The Memory Guy thought it might be interesting to determine what I could from the 55% gross margin number.

First of all we can estimate Inotera’s manufacturing cost/GB based on the gross margin and an assumption about the company’s sales price/GB.  The WSTS price per gigabyte for November was $7.83.   Assuming that Inotera’s ASP was equal to this number, then at a gross margin of 55% the company’s cost/GB would have been $3.52.

Inotera’s acts as a foundry for Micron Technoogy.  If Inotera sold to Micron at some lower price, then Inotera’s production costs would necessarily be proportionally lower to maintain the same gross margin.

Using the WSTS price: At a processed wafer cost of $1,600 (my rule of thumb) a $3.52/GB cost would require 454 8Gb dice to be produced Continue reading “Backing Out DRAM Process Rules”

Obama Honors SanDisk Co-Founder

Eli Harari Receiving National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Photo Credit: Ryan K Morris and the National Science and Technology Medals FoundationSanDisk co-founder Eli Harari was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation on November 20 by President Obama.  The medal, which was bestowed upon Dr. Harari in a White House ceremony, is the United States’ highest honor for scientific and technological achievement, and  recognizes those whose lasting contributions have created a greater understanding of the world and improved the lives of many.

Harari co-founded SanDisk more that 25 years ago with the vision that flash memory would be used to store data in mobile products, a vision that initially took seed in photography in the 1990s, and has since become the fastest-growing Continue reading “Obama Honors SanDisk Co-Founder”