Saturday, October 3, 2009

NAND Flash Memory - Enabling Mobility

Here's my presentation from the IDEMA Diskcon U.S.A. conference.

"NAND Flash Memory: Enabling Mobility"
Gregory Wong, Forward Insights
September 23, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flash Memory Summit Presentation

My presentation "NAND Flash Memory Trends" at the Flash Memory Summit has been uploaded.

A YouTube video of the presentation may be accessed at the following link.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Samsung and Numonyx Drive PCM Adoption

Samsung and Numonyx today announced that they will jointly develop common specifications for phase change memory (PCM). Common specifications are necessary to drive the adoption of PCM, particularly since OEMs do not want to be beholden to one supplier. The development of common specifications is analogous to what Intel and ST did in NOR flash starting with the 90nm NOR flash generation and resulted in Intel and ST being dual sourced at major OEMs.

The bit alterability of PCM make it attractive in simplifying firmware and reducing system overhead, however, adoption of PCM will likely be limited until costs approach that of flash memories. With a 45nm 1Gb PCM chip scheduled for production for the end of 2009, Numonyx will be closing the gap with NOR flash, however it'll take much longer for a new memory technology to break out of its niche status, if at all. Just take a look at where FRAM and MRAM are today.

This colloboration is the right step to facilitate the development of the infrastructure supporting PCM. Samsung's backing is a validation of the technology and also provides OEMs the confidence to commit themselves to this emerging memory technology.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Samsung and Toshiba Extend Patent Cross-licensing Agreement

Samsung and Toshiba have decided to extend their semiconductor patent cross-licensing agreement which ran from September 2002 to March 2009. No timetable was given for the new agreement but it is estimated that it will run for seven years, the same timeframe for the earlier announced Samsung-SanDisk patent cross license agreement.

As the inventor of NAND flash memory, Toshiba has the largest portfolio of NAND flash memory patents with a couple thousand patents. Despite being the No. 2 NAND flash memory supplier, Toshiba has been at the forefront of introducing new process technologies. Its super self-aligned STI process introduced in its 90nm NAND flash products were copied by other vendors in their 70nm and 60nm processes. The company was also the first to introduce new materials for the wordline and bitline in its 56nm process, the same materials which were incorporated into Samsung's 42nm process. And the company also led the transition to 64-cell NAND strings.

By signing these agreements with Toshiba and SanDisk, Samsung continues to have access to important NAND flash process technology as well as multi-level cell flash memory design IP relevant for future NAND flash generations.

Monday, April 13, 2009

SandForce Unveils Revolutionary SSD Controller

SandForce has emerged from stealth mode and unveiled a SSD controller for enterprise and mobile applications. Key features of the SF-1000 controller include:

- Dramatically higher endurance (80x) due to extremely low write amplification – significantly lower than the WA of current SSD vendors.
- Symmetrical read/write 30k IOPS and 250MB/s sequential
- 5 year drive life with no daily write limitation for MLC SSD
- No degradation in the performance as the drive fills up
- No need for external RAM or over-provisioning thereby reducing system costs
- ECC engine and RAID configuration of flash devices provides unrecoverable BER of 10E17

Existing solutions trade performance, reliability and endurance at the expense of additional cost. SandForce's DuraClass technology offers better performance, endurance and reliability at a lower system cost and paves the way for use of MLC NAND in a tiered storage hierarchy in enterprise systems. If SandForce is able to deliver on its promises, it is a truly revolutionary technology which will help drive the adoption of SSDs in both enterprise and mobile environments.

Monday, March 30, 2009

WD Buys its Way into SSDs

Western Digital Corp., the 2nd largest HDD maker, announced that it had acquired SiliconSystems, Inc. for $65 million in cash. SiliconSystems is a major supplier of embedded SSDs to the network-communications, industrial, embedded-computing, medical, military and aerospace markets.

WD is no stranger to SSDs having dabbled in the technology in the early 1990's and being a founding investor of SanDisk which also developed flash-based SSDs in the same time period. However, it appears that early experience wasn't enough for a latecomer to catch up to the vast improvements in performance and reliability made by SSD vendors recently. System-level solutions particulary on the firmware side are required to manage the increasing complexities of NAND flash with each new technology generation.

WD is now able to leverage SiliconSystems' knowhow and IP to accelerate its development of SSD computing solutions. This knowhow combined with WD's branding and client relationships could make WD a formidable SSD vendor and validates the market opportunity provided by SSDs.

This acquisition will compel HDD suppliers to review their own internal development plans and may be the first with others to follow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The First Domino Falls

After failing to secure a 325 million Euro rescue package from the German state of Saxony, Portugal's CGD Bank and parent Infineon, Qimonda today filed for bankruptcy. At the current cash burn, the package would have kept Qimonda afloat for another two quarters. Qimonda plans to continue as an ongoing concern under the auspices of bankruptcy protection, although how it plans to do so is unclear. Suppliers and business partners are likely to ask for cash upfront in any business dealings with the company, In addition, the company will need to make investments in its innovative Buried Wordline (BWL) technology to remain competitive on the technology front. It is estimated that over half a billion dollars will be required for the transition to 46nm BWL.

Now that the first domino has fallen the question is: Who's next? Spansion has delayed interest payments due January 15 on its outstanding 11.25% Senior Notes. The company has a 30-day grace period to rectify the situation and at the same time, has retained Barclays Capital to explore "strategic alternatives" including merger or selling of assets. With the meltdown in electronics demand in Q4/08 and uncertain economic environment, Spansion is going to have a difficult time of closing any "strategic alternatives". It is highly likely the company will file for Chapter 11 before the 30-day grace period is up which would be the 2nd week of February.

Taiwanese DRAM manufacturer ProMOS is another potential domino. With the DRAM prices falling below cash costs, ProMOS cut is fab capacity utilization to low double digit percentage to conserve cash. The company has also resorted to asset sales having sold NT$1.9 billion (US$56.5 million) worth of wafer test equipment to Powertech Technology, NT$580 million (US$17.2 million) 300mm front end wafer fab equipment to TSMC and US$15 million in land to Kingston.

With ProMOS' share price at NT$1.51 prior to the start of the lunar new year, well below the NT$14.7 conversion price, ProMOS faces the prospect of redeeming a $330 million Euro convertible bond due February 14. Having only about NT$5.4 billion cash (US$160 million), ProMOS has applied for a bailout package from the Taiwan government, however the government is promoting industry consolidation and indigenous technology development as the condition for any support making any carte blanche bailout unlikely. An alternative is for creditor banks to swap their ECB holdings to ProMOS shares or to extend the redemption deadline. If these efforts fail, then ProMOS' fate may depend on the rumored Elpida-Powerchip-Rexchip-ProMOS merger. If the consolidation proposal meets the indigenous technology requirements, ProMOS may find a new life under a larger entity. ProMOS will have only two weeks after the lunar new year to find out.