LONDON Infineon Technologies AG and partner IBM Microelectronics plan to make and market a 256-Mbit-scale magnetic RAM by 2004, and are expected to build the first products in a 0.13-micron process at their Altis Semiconductor joint venture in Corbeil-Essonnes, France.
"We're a going for a 256-Mbit-class memory," said Helmut Klose, senior director of technology development at Infineon, indicating that could mean either a 128-Mbit or a 256-Mbit device. "We need a reasonable size a demonstrator that could become a lead product to debug the process. We are trying to get agreement on this very first lead product."
So far IBM and Infineon have been jointly working on test arrays about 1 Mbit in size in 0.18-micron CMOS at IBM's research laboratories in East Fishkill, N.Y.
The duo's ambitious plans for magnetic RAM contrast with those of Motorola's Semiconductor Product Sector, the other major semiconductor company so far committed to an MRAM introduction. Motorola executives said in February that the company would probably produce a 4-Mbit MRAM in a process technology on the order of 0.2 micron.
Motorola is aiming to offer samples in 2003 and has produced a full memory-chip demonstrator. That suggests the company may be marginally ahead of IBM and Infineon in what is developing into a race to market.
"We are going to try to be the first, but more important we intend to be the best," said Infineon's Klose.
Infineon, which ranks No. 4 in the world DRAM market, is also backing another non-volatile technology, ferroelectric RAM, in its campaign to be a player in future memory markets. Partnering with Toshiba Corp., the company plans to bring a 32-Mbit FRAM to market in 2003.
"Our target is to have both technologies available in the market," said Klose. "We want to put them into the market with standalone memory products first. But ultimately we want to move toward embedded applications."
In previous cooperative efforts on processes and on DRAM technology, IBM and Infineon have jointly defined products but have manufactured them independently. Klose said that practice will remain in place after the first MRAM product is jointly developed.
Because MRAM will be a completely new family of memory, Klose said its introduction would require great care. He said he expects the MRAM technology to transfer from IBM's labs to Altis about a year before commercial production begins.
Meanwhile, Klose said the introduction of the ferroelectric RAM was complicated by the fact that Toshiba intends to manufacture the parts in a proprietary process at a wafer fab in Yokohama, Japan. How the technology would transfer to Infineon and whether Infineon would buy part of the Yokohama output was still being discussed, he said.