SAN JOSE, Calif. Looking to extend its lead in flash memory, South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. plans to double its flash capacity and has begun shipping its first NAND part based on a new 90-nm process technology.
On the product front, Samsung has begun shipping a 2-gigabit NAND device, built around the 90-nm process, said Tom Quinn, vice president of memory sales and marketing for the company's U.S unit, Samsung Semiconductor Inc., based in San Jose.
The Seoul-based company is also expanding its overall flash-memory capacity in order to meet huge demand for products, such as camera phones, cell phones, digital cameras, and USB drives, Quinn said. Samsung projects that the NAND market will grow 180-to-200 percent in terms of bit growth and sees the ongoing flash shortage to last through the third quarter of 2004, according to WR Hambrecht LLC of San Francisco (see January 16 story).
"We had a fantastic year in flash," Quinn said. "We're still on allocation on NAND flash. As a result, we are increasing our output," he said in an recent interview with Silicon Strategies..
The Korean company plans to double its production in terms of bits, he said. High market demand for DRAM and flash-memory products have prompted the company to increase the capacity of its 300-mm fab in Hwaseong, Korea.
Samsung is also ramping up a new and separate 100-nm process for SDRAMs, especially double-date-rate 2 parts. The chips are also being fabricated in the 300-mm fab.
In total, Samsung's IC capital spending is expected to reach $5.9 billion in 2004, up from $5.14 billion in 2003 and $3.1 billion in 2002. However, the company's expenditures for memories are expected to fall from $3.24 billion in 2003, to $1.3 billion in 2004. Its LCD spending is projected to jump from $1.47 billion in 2003, to $2.3 billion in 2004. It has not disclosed its spending for system LSI products.
Despite the apparent cut in spending, Samsung is expected to maintain its lead in DRAMs and flash. Last year, in fact, the company surpassed Intel Corp to become the top flash supplier in 2003. Samsung had estimated revenues of $2.2 billion in flash and an overall market share of 19.5 percent, according to iSuppli Corp.
Samsung's competitors are not standing still. Toshiba Corp., a supplier of NAND-based products, is readying its own 90-nm process technology for flash, according to analysts.
Intel said it plans to take back lost market share from the likes of Samsung, Toshiba, and the Fujitsu/Advanced Micro Devices joint venture. The U.S. chip giant has reshuffled its management team, rolled out a new product line, and set plans to triple its overall flash-memory capacity in 2004 over 2003 (see Feburary 19 story). Hynix, Infineon, and STMicroelectronics have also entered the flash fray, which is changing the supply and demand picture.
"We believe supply constraints should ease somewhat in 2H/04 when new entrants including Infineon and ST/Hynix begin to ramp up production, but total demand should be ahead of supply," said Satya Chillara, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, in a recent report. "In 2005, we are forecasting a slight 3 percent oversupply environment driven by 120 percent bit supply growth," he said.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Samsung is Intel, which is ramping up its NOR flash lines, also based on a 90-nm process. And, Intel is also attempting to extend NOR into the data storage market, which is dominated by NAND technology. Traditionally, NOR has been targeted for code storage.
Officials from Samsung are paying close attention to Intel's efforts in flash, although it insisted that NAND has several advantages over NOR. "NAND is a third of the cost of NOR," Quinn said. "NAND is still the preferred choice for data storage."
Samsung is increasing the ante in the marketplace, by rolling out its 2-Gbit device, based on a 90-nm process. In fact, the company believes that NAND will scale for many years to come. "NAND can scale beyond 90-nm," he said. "We have a roadmap to 65-nm with NAND."
The Korean chip giant is also looking into several next-generation nonvolatile technologies, such as FRAM and MRAM. Ramtron International Corp. has licensed its FRAM technology to Samsung, which is reportedly developing parts based on the technology. "We've got research going in every technology," he said.
This week, Samsung also rolled out its next generation embedded flash technology for system-on-a-chip and ASIC designs. Based on advanced 0.13-micron CMOS technology, Samsung's new LF13 process allows higher levels of integration, so flash memories can be embedded on the same die as logic, SRAM, analog and RF. The LF13 process incorporates Samsung's logic process and Silicon Storage Technology Inc.'s split-gate SuperFlash cell.