Monday, March 31, 2008

Numonyx Born #1

Intel and STMicroelectronics today announced the official launch of their JV, Numonyx. Numonyx combines the NOR flash assets of Intel and NAND and NOR assets of ST under one roof.

Numonyx starts out its first day as the number one NOR flash vendor, overtaking Spansion. Now, like Spansion and other NOR flash vendors, it must find a way to make money. It’s not going to be easy with the economy in bad shape and NOR flash pricing affected by falling NAND flash prices. The new company, does however, have a few things going for it.

1. By merging two similar businesses, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit and
opportunities to cut costs.

2. Numonyx will have dedicated facilities for production unlike in the past when it had to compete for resources with chipset or logic products.

3. Numonyx is 1.5 years and 2 years ahead of Spansion and Samsung on the technology roadmap.

4. At Intel and ST, flash memory was a side business. At Numonyx, flash memory is a core business.

This last point is what makes Numonyx a formidable competitor. It must succeed just to survive.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hynix Connects the Dots

On March 20, Nanosys, Inc. announced that Hynix Semiconductor Inc. will collaborate with Nanosys to employ Nanosys' quantum dot flash memory technologies (QDM) for NAND based flash memory. Hynix is the third major semiconductor manufacturer to sign up for access to Nanosys’ technology. Intel invested $38 million in Nanosys’ second round financing that closed in May 2003 and subsequently, announced a technical collaboration in 2004 to explore the use of nanocrystals in memory devices. In 2006, the collaboration was expanded to include Intel’s NAND flash memory partner, Micron Technology.

NAND-based nanocrystal memories can potentially provide a scaling path for current floating gate (FG) technologies by reducing the capacitive coupling between cells and eliminating SILC. The main challenge has been the controllability and uniformity of the nanocrystal size and distribution with technology scaling.
Nanosys claims to have solved this issue. Nanosys’ QDM with proprietary ligands are applied with a traditional spin-on process and self-assemble into a consistent monolayer on the wafer. The integration involves fewer process steps than either FG or nitride charge trap flash (CTF) alternatives while offering a very large voltage threshold window for enhanced MLC capability.

If QDM can deliver on its promise, we could see QDM enter into production at the 3xnm node and beyond.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Micron-Nanya Deal Re-shapes DRAM Landscape

The signing of a memorandum of understanding between Micron Technology and Nanya Technology to jointly develop and manufacture sub-50nm DRAM technology re-shapes the DRAM landscape and places Nanya partner, Qimonda AG in a precarious situation. Although specifics of the final agreement are sketchy, one of the options is to form a 50/50 manufacturing JV in Nanya’s Fab3 which is only equipped to half of its full capacity. Nanya would license Micron’s 68nm technology platform and possibly participate in the joint development of 50nm and below technologies.

The following is our assessment of the impact on the various players.

Micron Technology

The big winner in this is Micron which reduces its capital intensity and increases its access to low cost Asian manufacturing capacity. In the last few years, Micron’s DRAM market share has dropped as it diversified its product portfolio into NAND flash and CMOS image sensors. As the 5th largest DRAM vendor in 2007 with roughly 10% market share, Micron is well poised to vie with Qimonda and Elpida for the No. 3 position.

Nanya Technology

It appears that Nanya, having completed joint development of 58nm trench technology with Qimonda harbored doubts about the scalability of the technology. Its concerns were validated last week when Qimonda announced the development of its “Buried Wordline” stack technology and a roadmap to continue scaling its DRAM technology based on this technology.
By cooperating with Micron, Nanya gains a clear technology roadmap for its business and more importantly, the relevant intellectual property and trade secrets required to manufacture stack technology.

The downside is that it’ll have to continue supporting two technology platforms in the next 2-3 years and absorb any manufacturing inefficiencies and additional fab investment required to make the conversion.

Qimonda AG

Qimonda loses a strong partner in Nanya and indirectly, the Formosa Plastics Group, and except for Samsung, is now the odd man out in relation to the partnerships of Hynix/ProMOS, Elpida/Powerchip and Micron/Nanya. In three years time, Qimonda may find itself in the position that Micron is in today: No. 5 and unprofitable – unless it is able to execute on its Buried Wordline technology.

A bigger issue is the impact on Inotera and the capacity implications for Qimonda.


Inotera will have to eventually transition to stack technology whether it be from Micron or Qimonda, however, it is unlikely that Nanya will continue to work with Qimonda on the future technologies once the Micron deal is finalized. Qimonda has neither the cash nor resources to buyout and manage Inotera.

The likely outcome is for Qimonda to exit Inotera either by selling its shares to Nanya or institutional investors or to sell the shares on the open market. If it sells the shares via the open market, it may take a year to unwind its stake as Taiwan Stock Exchange regulations limit the amount of shares which can be disposed daily.

Qimonda which obtains 50% of the 120k wpm capacity from Inotera will lose out on 60k wpm which will not be easily replaced.

Perhaps a harbinger of the future of Inotera and the intense negotiations going on between Nanya and Qimonda, the domain name has expired.


Infineon exited ProMOS after a nasty spat with partner Mosel Vitelic. ProMOS has been having difficulties in obtaining 66nm technology from Hynix due to Korean government restrictions on the export of advanced sub-80nm technologies. Is re-marriage in the cards for the former Infineon/Qimonda partner? Difficult to say, but don’t expect Hynix to give up on ProMOS without a fight.

Winbond, SMIC

Expect Qimonda to shore up its alliances with Winbond and SMIC. It needs the capacity. Winbond and SMIC have the upper hand and should be able to negotiate more favorable terms for producing the Buried Wordline technology. A deeper relationship with Winbond could be in the offing.


It is unlikely to impact the supply-demand situation in the short term, but could negatively impact the supply-demand in the mid-term as competitors react by increasing output to maintain market share.
The Micron-Nanya cooperation creates a more formidable competitor in both the DRAM and NAND space and sets up Micron to become one of the top three memory vendors along with Samsung and Hynix. Elpida and Qimonda, pure DRAM vendors are looking for a NAND play. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

NAND Flash Capex - Full Steam Ahead!

Despite the current oversupply environment and the heavy price drops this quarter (Intel reported ASP declines of 53%), NAND flash manufacturers are maintaining aggressive capex plans. Samsung's ramp of its Austin facility and Hynix's ramp of M11 will offset some of the retirement of 200mm NAND capacity from both companies.

IMFT has maximized its capacity at Manassas and Lehi and will ramp its Singapore fab with maximum capacity of 60k wpm starting in Q3/08. Toshiba/SanDisk's Fab3 reached its full capacity of 150k wpm in September 2007 with Fab4 volume ramp started in December. Fab4 is a massive fab with maximum capacity of 210k wpm.
Powerchip Semiconductor is currently building two fabs P4 and P5 dedicated to the manufacture of NAND flash. These fabs are not expected to ramp in volume until the 50nm generation in 2009.

Spansion as well as foundry partners TSMC and SMIC capex figures includes fungible capacity that may be used to manufacture Mirrorbit NOR.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Qimonda Digs Itself Out of Trench

Qimonda created a stir last week when it unveiled a new DRAM technology called “Buried Wordline Technology” which purportedly consumes less power than conventional stacked capacitor DRAMs. This is achieved by reducing the capacitive coupling between the bitline and wordline by burying the wordline in the substrate of the device. An image of the buried wordline in Qimonda’s presentation appears to show tungsten as the wordline material. The middle of line process in the memory array is greatly simplified compared to standard stacked capacitor devices resulting in reduced process complexity.

Another surprising feature was the absence of a trench capacitor. Qimonda has responded to skepticism regarding the scalability of trench technology by switching to a cylindrical stacked capacitor for its DRAM roadmap down to the 3xnm generation. Qimonda plans to ramp its 65nm buried wordline technology with cell size of 6F2 in parallel with its 58nm 8F2 trench capacitor technology in the second half of 2008. The 65nm 1Gb device sports a die size of 55mm2 comparable to Micron’s 68nm 1Gb DDR2 chip size of 56mm2.

Subsequent 46nm and 3xnm 6F2 generations will be introduced in 2009 and 2010 respectively with a 3xnm 4F2 technology targeted for 2011. According to Qimonda, the 46nm technology is expected to effectively double the number of die per wafer versus the 58nm trench technology allowing the company to take the lead in productivity vis-à-vis the competition. This productivity boost is particularly important for driving down costs, especially in light of the massive €598 million net loss the company posted in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2007 on net sales of €513 million.

Qimonda stated that an incremental investment of €100 million over its existing investment for trench technology would be required to make the transition to the new technology. This would include deposition and etch tooling for hi-k capacitor formation.

The company hinted that the new technology opens up partnering opportunities which is expected to include Qimonda’s manufacturing and foundry partners, Winbond and SMIC although Inotera's participation is questionable given the recent tie-up between Nanya and Micron Technology. If licensing deals with these parties are reached, they would be expected to make similar investments for the conversion from trench to stack technology.

Currently, Qimonda, along with partner Nanya Technology, are the sole remaining DRAM players engaged in the development and production of trench capacitor DRAM technology accounting for a combined 18% of the DRAM market in 2007. The remaining 82% consists of Samsung, Hynix/ProMOS, Elpida/Powerchip and Micron Technology, which are all part of the stacked capacitor camp. With Qimonda’s announcement, trench technology is expected to be phased out of the market in the next three years.

It is also difficult to ignore the timing of the announcement. It appears that Qimonda was pressured to reveal details of its roadmap plans after rumors of a joint development and production agreement between its partner, Nanya Technology and Micron Technology surfaced. The rumors were subsequently confirmed when a memorandum of understanding was announced between the two parties on March 3.