Monday, April 21, 2008

Macronix: After the Qimonda Divorce

Just 3.5 months after signing the agreement, Macronix International and Qimonda AG announced that Qimonda terminated the Flash technology license and joint development agreement. Having lost Euro 482 million in the most recent quarter as well as its technology partner, Nanya Technologies to Micron Technology, Qimonda is in survival mode. By cutting back its flash technology development, Qimonda intends to re-deploy resources to focus on ensuring the success of its new buried wordline DRAM technology.

Macronix, on the other hand, will need to either develop flash technology internally or with another partner. With only $487 million cash on its balance sheet at the end of 2007, Macronix will not be able to fund technology development as well as invest in a leading edge 300mm fab. It will clearly require partners.

However, the number of potential partners is limited as all NAND flash vendors with the exception of Samsung are already aligned with others. An earlier agreement to collaborate with Powerchip Semiconductor on flash memory development and foundry services at fab 12M ended due to a fight between the two companies over control of the Macronix board at last year's shareholders' meeting.

One long-shot possibility is Spansion which is rumored to be developing a SONOS-based memory in a NAND architecture dubbed "ORNAND2". However, the ORNAND2 cell is based on Mirrorbit technology and is therefore different than the BE-SONOS technology championed by Macronix which is based on electron tunneling for programming. The fact that ORNAND2 is based on Mirrorbit technology means it is not really a true NAND. Other than the diverging technology strategies, lingering negative sentiment over Spansion's 2006 trademark infringement lawsuit against Macronix makes any collaboration unlikely.

Despite its collaboration with Numonyx, Hynix may be the most attractive partner. Hynix and Numonyx jointly develop product designs, however, technology development rests mainly with Hynix. Normally a technology follower, Hynix will no longer to be able to just copy the technology of others if it is to become a technology leader. BE-SONOS offers a viable scaling path for sub-40nm NAND and a combination of Macronix's strong development team and Hynix's low cost 300mm wafer manufacturing could make a potent team.


Anonymous said...

I got the rumors that new technology of Spansion is more similar to charge trapped technology of experienced by Samsung. Maybe I am wrong.

Greg said...

Yes, I have also heard the same. It appears Spansion is developing 16Gb SONOS FinFET for 45nm generation.