On 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 “Making Sense of Intel & Micron’s XPoint Breakup”
It came as a surprise to the Memory Guy on Monday to receive a press release from Micron indicating that Intel and Micron had decided to end their NAND flash partnership.
This agreement, which was begun in 2006, helped the two companies to aggressively ramp into the NAND flash market by combining their resources. NAND flash makers (as well as DRAM makers) need to make very substantial capital investments to participate in the market, and that’s not easy for a new entrant. Micron at that time was a very small NAND flash maker, and Intel wasn’t involved in the NAND flash market at all, so neither was in a position to succeed. By combining their resources the companies were able to become important contributors to the market.
The agreement initially appeared to be modeled after the very successful joint venture that Toshiba and SanDisk enjoyed. Each company would contribute half of the JV’s capital investment, and the same designs would be used to make both companies’ chips.
Over time Intel found itself in a familiar Continue reading “Micron and Intel to End NAND Flash JV”
Yesterday’s news really underscored the race currently underway between 3D NAND makers to produce higher layer counts than one another.
Intel produced an announcement in which VP Rob Crooke bragged that: “Intel has delivered the world’s first commercially available 64-layer, TLC, 3D NAND solid state drive (SSD). While others have been talking about it, we have delivered.”
The announcement explained that the new Intel SSD 545s could be purchased at Newegg beginning that day.
The Memory Guy received Intel’s announcement at 10:02 AM Pacific Time. By 3:11 PM, five hours later, there was another announcement in my “In” box, this time from Western Digital (WDC).
WDC’s e-mail announced the development of the the SanDisk/Toshiba next-generation BiCS4 3D NAND technology, with 96 layers. The companies expect to begin to sample a 256Gb part to OEM customers in the second half of 2017 with production starting by the end of next year.
One has to wonder if WDC was Continue reading “3D NAND: “I Have More Layers than You Do!””
The following is excerpted from an Objective Analysis Alert sent to our clients on March 26: On March 25 SanDisk and Toshiba announced sampling of their 3D NAND flash technology, a 128Gb (gigabit) 48-layer second-generation product based on the BiCS technology that the companies pioneered in 2007. Pilot production will begin in the second half of 2015 with meaningful production targeted for 2016. This release was issued at the same time that Intel and Micron were briefing the press and analysts for their March 26 announcement of their own 3D NAND offering (pictured), which is currently sampling with select customers, and is to enter full production by year-end. The Micron-Intel chip is a 32-layer 256Gb device, which the companies proudly point out is the densest flash chip in the industry.
Similarities and Differences
These two joint ventures (Intel-Micron and SanDisk-Toshiba) are taking very different Continue reading “Four New Players Join 3D NAND Market”
NAND flash is the process leader in memory technology, and this puts it in a very challenging position: It must ramp to high volume production using techniques that have never been tried before.
The graphic for this post (click to enlarge), supplied by ASML, the semiconductor industry’s leading lithography tool supplier, illustrates the challenge of migrating from one process node to the next. Across the bottom, on the X-axis, are representative process nodes ranging from “2D-45”, or two-dimensional (planar) 45nm NAND, to “3D-5x”, or three-dimensional 5xnm NAND. Below these numbers are the year of volume production.
The vertical axis, labeled “Tolerance” represents the minimum Continue reading “Why NAND is So Difficult to Scale”
This series has looked at 3D NAND technology in a good deal of technical depth. The last question to be answered centers around the players and the timing of the technology. A lot has been said about the technology and its necessity. Will everyone be making 3D NAND? When will this big transition occur?
This post will provide an update as of its publication (13 December 2013) to show each company’s current status, to the best of The Memory Guy’s understanding. Readers may want to refer back to the earlier posts in this series, as well as to a June 2013 Nikkei TechON article that gives a good review of the 3D NAND alternatives that have been presented at various technical conferences.
Let’s start with Samsung, the largest producer of NAND flash today. Just prior to Memcon 2013 last Continue reading “3D NAND: Who Will Make It and When?”
Some of my readers have asked: “How is 3D NAND programmed and erased? Is it any different from planar NAND?”
In a word: No.
(Before I get too far into this allow me to admit that The Memory Guy doesn’t understand quantum physics, so I will be presenting this only to the depth that I understand it. There will be no band-gap diagrams or equations to wrestle with.)
Both 3D NAND and planar NAND use Fowler Nordheim Tunneling (FN) to both program and erase. This differs from NOR flash which programs bits using Continue reading “How Do You Erase and Program 3D NAND?”
One of the thornier problems in making 3D NAND is the job of connecting the peripheral logic (the row decoders) to all of those control gates that are on layers buried somewhere within the bit array. Remember that the control gates are the conductive sheets of polysilicon or tantalum nitride at various depths in the chip.
The problem boils down to this: You can’t run connections from each layer up or down the side of the chip to get to the CMOS circuits below. Instead you have to create a terrace structure to expose and connect to each layer.
These connections are made by etching a stair-step pattern into the layers and sinking Continue reading “3D NAND: How do You Access the Control Gates?”
My prior 3D NAND post explained how Toshiba’s BiCS cell works, using a silicon nitride charge trap to substitute for a floating gate. This post will look at an alternative technology used by Samsung and Hynix which is illustrated in the first graphic, a diagram Samsung presented at a technical conference. This cell also uses a charge trap.
Let The Memory Guy warn you, if the process in my prior post seemed tricky, this one promises to put that one to shame!
Part of this stems from the use of a different kind of NAND bit cell. You can shrink flash cells smaller if you use a high-k gate dielectric (one with a high dielectric constant “k”) since it Continue reading “An Alternative Kind of Vertical 3D NAND String”
Let’s look at how one form of 3D NAND is manufactured. For this post we will explore the original design suggested by Toshiba at the IEEE’s International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM) in 2007. It’s shown in the first graphic of this post. (Click on any of the graphics for a better view.)
Toshiba calls this technology “BiCS” for “Bit Cost Scaling.” The technique doesn’t scale the process the way the world of semiconductors has always done to date – it scales the cost without shrinking the length and width of the memory cell. It accomplishes this by going vertically, as is shown in this post’s first graphic.
This takes a special effort. This is where the real Continue reading “3D NAND: Making a Vertical String”