SAN JOSE, Calif. – As expected, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. will take the process technology lead in the NAND flash market.
The companies have introduced a new 20-nm process technology for manufacturing NAND flash memory. Manufactured by IM Flash Technologies LLC (IMFT), Intel and Micron’s NAND flash joint venture, the new 20-nm process produces an 8-gigabyte (GB) multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash device. The device had been expected.
Until now, the duo of Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. were the process technology leaders in the market. The two companies, which have a joint manufacturing venture, are ramping up a 24-nm NAND line. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. are also separately ramping up 2x-nm-class devices.
''This release of the 20-nm node clearly places IMFT at the leading edge of all the NAND manufacturers,'' said Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research. ''Toshiba announced their 24-nm NAND last week in production along with their SmartNAND. Where is Samsung in the NAND technology race? They claim to be at the 20-nm node range, but in reality they are at 27-nm and possibly shipping in volume. Their next node is either 22-nm or 20-nm but when will they ship in volume late 2012 or sooner? IMFT does have the technology leadership but will they ever have the production volume leadership rivaling Toshiba or Samsung?''
''It's inspiring to see this partnership continue to stay so far ahead of the pack. Not only have they maintained the lead for four generations, but they are also four generations past the projection that Intel made in 2003 that flash would not scale past the 60-nm node,'' added Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis.
The new 20-nm 8-GB device from the Intel-Micron duo measures just 118mm2 and enables a 30 to 40 percent reduction in board space (depending on package type), compared to the companies’ existing 25-nm 8-GB NAND device. The new 20-nm process maintains similar performance and endurance as the previous generation 25-nm NAND technology.
This provides a high-capacity, small form factor storage option for saving music, video, books and other data on smartphones, tablets and computing solutions such as solid-state drives (SSDs). The growth in data storage combined with feature enhancements for tablets and smartphones is creating new demands for NAND flash technology, especially greater capacity in smaller designs.
The 20-nm, 8-GB device is sampling now and expected to enter mass production in the second half of 2011. At that time, Intel and Micron also expect to unveil samples of a 16-GB device, creating up to 128-GBs of capacity in a single solid-state storage solution that is smaller than a U.S. postage stamp.
Flash memory has a limited number of program-erase (P/E) cycles. Older NAND products are said to withstand around 100,000 P/E cycles. Then, wear begins to deteriorate the reliability of the device. To drive down costs, many OEMs have migrated to 50-nm-class devices, based on multi-level-cell (MLC) technology. These types of devices, equipped with 4-bit error correction, have 10,000 endurance cycles.
Now, OEMs are looking at 30-nm-class NAND and below, based on MLC. These types of devices, equipped with 8-bit error correction, have only 5,000 endurance cycles.
Intel and Micron said that the 20-nm device will enable 5,000 endurance cycles. That could still be suitable for USB drives, SSDs and most other applications. Right now, 5,000 endurance cycles ''is good,'' Handy said. ''Plus, the sooner IMFT reaches 5K the harder it will be on competitors who ship anything less.''
''That’s impressive,'' added Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights, but ''the ECC requirements are likely higher.''
Well, that "almost a full generation ahead" process leadership hasn't lasted much longer than it takes ink to dry on the paper that the announcement was written on (or whatever the electronic equivalent is).
SanDisk Announces 19-Nanometer Manufacturing Technology--World's Smallest, Most Advanced Process Node
* Industry-leading 19nm 64-gigabit X2 memory chip; smallest NAND flash memory chip in the world
* Volume production scheduled for the second half of 2011
MILPITAS, Calif., Apr 20, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) --
SanDisk Corporation (NASDAQ:SNDK), the global leader in flash memory cards, today announced a 64-gigabit (Gb), 2-bits-per-cell (X2) based monolithic chip made on 19-nanometer (nm) technology, the most advanced memory process technology node in the world. This latest technology enables SanDisk to produce embedded and removable storage devices with the high capacities and small form factors used in mobile phones, tablet computers and other devices.
SanDisk will sample its 19nm 64Gb X2 device this quarter and expects to begin high-volume production in the second half of 2011. At that time, SanDisk will also add 3-bits-per-cell (X3) products fabricated with the 19nm process technology to its product lineup.
more at http://investor.sandisk.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=86495&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1553026&highlight=
If you have the right controller and Sandisk's Adaptive Flash Management, then you can use x3 in many products, including cards, USB drives, and embedded flash in handsets and tablets. Cf. http://savolainen.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/adaptive-flash-management/
But you are right, if x3 doesn't have those things, then it can't be used for much. This is why Sandisk gets better margins than other NAND producers.
"it is hard to imagine that they would start volume production from as late as Nov or Dec '10 as you stated…"
Well, don't argue with me, argue with Micron's management. Why don't you read the transcript to their Oct 7 conference call:
I didn't say that they started volume production in Nov or Dec. I said that that was when the cross over occurred (that is, the point at which more 25nm chips were produced than 34nm).
"And how do you know they do not have 20nm of 3-bit per cell design in the pipeline now?"
lol, I'm sure that there are a lot of things in their pipeline. However, please read what I said--"IMFT dropped x3 in Dec 2009 because they couldn't make it work. They called it "junk" back then. I know they tried it again back in August, but haven't heard anything about it since they announced their retry." I'm not sure what you are in a snit about. Everything I said there is factual. And it is also factual that Sandisk is technologically ahead of the other NAND vendors in x3 production. It is also factual that Micron has repeatedly described x3 as "junk" NAND, and more than once has derided its possible capabilities. It is also fact that the reason they do so is because they are behind Sandisk technologically in this area, and they so far haven't been able to produce x3 chips that have the same endurance and reliability as Sandisk's x3 chips. And it is also fact that Sandisk is the only vendor to have qualified x3 in embedded applications.
IMFT's 25nm was announced in Jan 2010.
And then both Intel and Micron's 25nm-based SSD devices started to flush the market in late March ~mid April
Considering the R&D development/engineering work cycle, Fab cycle time, probe, assembly, test, and then SSD product design/debug/QRA...etc, it is hard to imagine that they would start volume production from as late as Nov or Dec '10 as you stated…
And how do you know they do not have 20nm of 3-bit per cell design in the pipeline now?
You said, "IMFT has been making 25nm in volume for a lot longer than just a few months ago." Micron said this in their Q4 CC (on Oct 7):
"Production increases are largely coming from continued transition to our 25 nanometer process technology which is expected to cross over and become the highest NAND production in the first quarter."
So the cross over in 25nm volume production probably happened sometime in Nov or so. Toshiba/Sandisk began their 24nm transition in Oct-Nov, we will hear more about their progress next week in Sandisk's CC and the earthquake obviously threw them a curve, but I will still hazard a guess that their cross over will happen soon despite that curve. Certainly sooner than 11 months after they began. In other words, to respond to the real point I was making--it is an exaggeration to suggest that Micron is "almost a full generation ahead" of their competition
But fleshing this out a little more--Micron and Sandisk really focus on different NAND markets. Micron is headed more toward SSDs, especially enterprise SSDs, while Sandisk is still geared toward consumer products. That isn't to say that Micron doesn't deal with consumer products, but clearly they want the higher margins that the enterprise offers. Sandisk gets their higher margins in consumer products due to their x3 leadership, and that is where they have focused their attention to date, and likely will do so at least until Fab 5 comes up. To say that Micron is "ahead" technologically is misleading because it ignores the differences in their models and ignores the nuances and the breadth of the NAND market. That breadth and complexity will only grow in coming years, as the SSD market grows and matures and as 1x production comes online in 2012.
For disclosure's sake, I own them both.
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