Friday, February 5, 2010

A New NAND Flash Player Emerges?

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware approved an agreement by Spansion’s debtors to transfer its Milan development facilities to Elpida Memory. Details of the agreement are unclear at the moment, however, Spansion will apparently retain IP rights for the technology developed at the research center.

Spansion established its Security and Advanced Technology Division (SATD) in 2007 and staffed it with ex-STMicroelectronics NAND flash engineers including division head, Carla Golla who prior to joining Spansion was the general manager of ST’s NAND Flash and Storage Media product group.

The division’s mission is to develop secure products such as the MirrorBit HD-SIM product family and ORNAND2. ORNAND2 - unlike ORNAND which is a Mirrorbit with a NAND interface – is a true NAND architecture based on SONOS technology. Spansion needed a NAND device for its MCPs and ORNAND2 was the solution which allowed Spansion to utilize its charge trap flash knowhow and sidestep IP issues related to floating gate devices. SATD was responsible for product design for ORNAND2 and the process technology was developed in the U.S.

Spansion had planned to ramp ORNAND2 into production in the second half of 2009 on 43nm with foundry partner SMIC. Needless to say, those plans were derailed with Spansion’s Chapter 11 filing.

Elpida has been a supplier of mobile DRAM to Spansion and has lost a major customer as Spansion exits the wireless market. In addition, Elpida is the only tier 1 DRAM company without NAND flash in its product portfolio. Being a second tier supplier of DRAM KGD (known good die) to NOR flash suppliers is an unenviable position. Elpida needs to capture more of the value-added and capitalize on the shift from NOR flash to NAND flash in the cellphone market.

Elpida’s newly acquired asset will allow it to do just that by leveraging SATD’s development of 1Gb-4Gb SLC NAND to offer NAND/DRAM MCP solutions. Whether the device will be SONOS or floating gate-based is not certain, however the fact that Spansion will retain partial IP ownership of SATD developments suggests at some sort of cooperation utilizing Spansion’s SONOS technology. This initial foray into low density SLC NAND may just portend even greater ambitions in the high density data storage market.