SAN JOSE, Calif. - Last week, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. took the process technology lead in the NAND flash market by rolling out a 20-nm process.
This week, Intel and Micron lost the lead. SanDisk Corp. and Toshiba Corp. have regained the lead, claiming that they have fabricated NAND flash memories with 19-nm process technology. The two companies have a joint manufacturing venture in Japan.
This was seen as a major surprise. SanDisk and Toshiba were expected to announce a 1x-nm-class NAND device, but not until year's end, observers said. So, in other words, Intel and Micron held the NAND process lead for a mere seven days.
''Note that the (SanDisk-Toshiba duo) are not yet sampling the 19-nm part,'' said Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis. ''Intel and Micron were already sampling their 20-nm part when it was introduced.''
''The timeline seems similar to IM Flash. I estimate the memory cell size to be approximately 10 percent smaller than IMFT’s,'' said Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights, referring to the joint NAND venture between Intel and Micron.
This latest technology from the SanDisk-Toshiba duo has already been applied to 2-bit-per-cell, 64-gigabit chips. This enables 8-GB on a single chip. Toshiba and SanDisk will also add 3-bit-per-cell products fabricated with the 19-nm process technology to its product line-up.
The 19-nm process will be ramped up within Fab 4-not Fab 5-at its Yokkaichi Operations in Japan, according to Toshiba. Yokkaichi Operations currently has four NAND flash memory fabs. Toshiba and SanDisk have been ramping production in Fab 4-a 300-mm plant.
Last year, Japan's Toshiba started the construction of a new NAND flash memory fab, dubbed Fab 5, also a 300-mm plant. Construction work is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2011.
Toshiba said samples of 2-bit-per-cell, 64-Gbit line will be available at the end of this month, with mass production scheduled for the third quarter of the year.
Application of the 19-nm generation process technology will further shrink chip size, allowing Toshiba to assemble 16 64-Gbit NAND flash memory chips in one package and to deliver 128-GB devices for smartphones and tablet PCs. The 19-nm process products are also equipped with Toggle DDR2.0, which enhances data transfer speed.
For its part, SanDisk will sample its 19-nm, 64-Gbit 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 products fabricated with the 19-nm process technology to its product line-up.
SanDisk’s so-called All-Bit-Line (ABL) architecture with proprietary programming algorithms and multi-level data storage management schemes help yield multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash memory chips that do not sacrifice performance or reliability.
In a statement, Yoram Cedar, executive vice president and chief technology officer of SanDisk, said: “Products based on this technology are designed to enable new applications, form factors and consumer experience that will continue to drive the flash industry to new heights.”
For some time, the duo of Toshiba and SanDisk were the process technology leaders in the market. The two companies 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.
Then, last week, Intel and Micron grabbed the lead. The companies 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.
Now, SanDisk and Toshiba trumped the Intel-Micron duo. “We are excited to introduce the world’s smallest and lowest-cost NAND flash chips based on industry-leading 19-nm process technology in our ongoing collaboration with our manufacturing partner Toshiba,” said Cedar.
On the down side, however, Toshiba has told customers it will have to halve its output of NAND flash memory ICs in May and June because of a shortage of blank wafers and other materials, according to a Digitimes report that referenced unnamed industry sources.