EE Times caught up with Steve Appleton, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Micron Technology Inc., by way of a video conference between London and Boise, Idaho. Peter Clarke asked Appleton about the challenges that lie ahead in memory and other chip markets in which Micron participates.
EE Times: How long had the deal to make a NAND flash memory joint venture with Intel been in the making? And does Intel get the benefit of guaranteed chip supply from IM Flash while Micron is left with the cares and responsibilities of fab ownership?
Steve Appleton: Well, a few months. But we’ve been working with Intel for years. They invested $500 million in Micron in 1998 and less than $500 million in about 2003, so we’ve also been working with them for a long time.
The joint venture is 51 percent Micron and 49 percent Intel. That’s the way the capital works and, going forward, that's the way we’ll split additional capital contributions. Now some facilities we already had were not full, so some spaces in some shells are leased to IM Flash.
A Boise 8-inch fab is making flash today, and that is now running through the joint venture. Our Virginia facility is 50 percent DRAM. But the big facility in Utah has been contributed into the joint venture.
EE Times:If pursuit of the NAND flash market is such a good idea, why didn’t Micron borrow from bankers, go it alone and keep all the profits for itself and its shareholders? Why let Intel in?
Steve Appleton: The strength of Intel should not be underestimated; in NOR flash, in multi-layer cell technology, and in channels to market. Could we have gone on our own? Yes. But it is a question of time. We think NAND flash is going to see 100 percent annual bit growth for several years; it was something like 300 percent last year. Of course the actual selling price and revenue growth will vary, but we needed to move fast.
We were a small player in the flash market, and we could have got there in the end, but the market is growing so fast that teaming up was the way to go.
EE Times: The IM Flash deal is a 10-year agreement with Intel; some researchers think that is longer than flash can continue scaling. Are other non-volatile technologies, such as phase-change memory, included in the scope of IM Flash?
Steve Appleton: We’re pretty confident down to the 35-nanometer range, we’re already down there in research. Now there could be some other technology that comes along, so we need to be aware. The joint venture does not have a mandatory requirement to restrict itself to flash.
EE Times: Intel has active research into other non-volatile memory technologies. Is that work included within the scope of the joint venture?
Steve Appleton: Micron has done a lot of research as well, on things like phase-change memory and MRAM. But the focus of the joint venture today is to get the 72-nanometer NAND flash into volume, to get 50-nanometer NAND ready for production and continue 35-nm development.