Someone cue up Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and don't stop playing until the memory chip market has been fully weeded out. It was only a week ago that Germany-based chip maker Qimonda became the first major memory chip maker to file for bankruptcy, and now Spansion Japan appears to be on the chopping block as well.
Originally spun off by AMD in 2005 to create flash memory, Spansion now owes just shy of $810 million, making it the biggest bankruptcy filing in Japan's manufacturing sector this year. However, the company maintains that its operations will continue on as normal.
"Spansion Inc. does not expect the filing in Japan to materially affect its global operations," the company said Monday. "Spansion Japan Ltd. will continue its operations and intends to pay, in a timely manner, for all goods and services that it obtains after the date of filing."
How the bankruptcy court decides to proceed remains to be seen, but it would have a number of options available, from letting Spansion continue to operate as it restructures, to full-scale liquidation.
Don't worry, that 6GB triple-channel DDR3 kit you just picked up for your new Core i7 build isn't going to go out of style any time soon, but Samsung did take us one step closer to DDR4 this week. The memory chip maker said it has developed and validated its first 40nm DRAM chip, and if all goes to plan, it will consume nearly a third less power than current 50nm chips.
Samsung's shrunken chip technology will first be used in a 1GB DDR2-800 SO-DIMM module and has been validated for Intel's GM45 platform. The company also said it plans to apply its 40nm technology to develop a 2Gbit DDR3 device for mas production by the end of the year.
"This definitely moves Samsung ahead very aggressively in terms of its manufacturing facilities," said Bob Merritt, a founding partner of market research firm Convergent Semiconductors LLC
But the biggest news is Samsung's claim that the move to 40nm is "a significant step" toward developing "ultra-high performance DRAM technologies" like DDR4, though the company didn't offer any other details.
Rambus investors have found themselves riding a financial roller coaster filled with ups and downs contingent upon how the technology company fares in court. If you happen to be one of those investors, you better refill your Dramamine prescription. That's because a U.S. federal judge this week postponed indefinitely patent infringement cases filed by Rambus against several rival memory chip makers. News of the legal setback sent Rambus' shares hurtling downwards 22 percent in after-hours trading.
The defendants argued for the delay following Judge Sue L. Robinson's ruling on January 9 that the patent suit against Micron Technologies is "unenforceable" and that "spoliation" of evidence occurred.
"We are pleased that Judge Whyte recognized that the Delaware Court's unenforceability ruling impacts the patents asserted by Rambus in the California matter, and that he stayed Rambus' patent case against Micron," Micron general counsel Rod Lewis said in a statement. "We believe that Judge Robinson's thorough decision will be upheld on appeal."
Not surprisingly, Rambus holds a decidedly different opinion of the ruling. "While we are disappointed with the stay of the coordinated cases, it our expectation that the conflicting opinions of the district courts regarding document spoliation will go up together on appeal," Tom Lavelle, Rambus general counsel, said in a statement.
According to a report by DigiTimes, Kingston Technology is vouching for memory chip maker ProMOS Technologies and has agreed to act as a guarantor for the latter's application for a syndicated loan worth approximately $148 million. Of that $148 million, which is to be paid by nine local banks, Kingston has reportedly agreed to guarantee somewhere between $44 to $60 million.
Memory chip makers have found themselves in dire straights over slumping memory prices and an unforgiving global economy. The situation has gotten so bad that Qimonda, one of the world's top 10 memory chip suppliers, recently filed for bankruptcy. ProMOS has also been struggling, suffering losses adding up to $675 million in the first three quarters of 2008. Earlier this month, ProMOS submitted its application for a government-led bailout package.
Germany-based chip maker Qimonda, who held a 10 percent share of the DRAM market in Q3 2008, becomes the first major memory chip maker to file for bankruptcy following the rapid decline of memory chip prices. As a result, DRAM pricing has spiked by as much as 26 percent, a trend which is expected to continue in the short-term.
Qimonda continues to operate, but for how long is anyone's guess. The company's bankruptcy filing follows a failed attempt to secure investment funds, and because Qimonda owes Inotera Memories and Winbond Electronics millions of dollars, the two chip partners refuse to ship any more chips to the bankrupt company.
Other chip makers might not be far behind Qimonda. In November 2008, DRAMeXchange stated "the DRAM industry has entered the key adjusting state of 'reduce or retire,'" and according to iSuppli, many of the world's top 10 memory chip suppliers will see major declines in revenue.
Last year it was Biostar -- and not Asus, DFI, or Gigabyte -- who set a frontside bus world record with its Biostar TPower I45 motherboard, and further blurring the lines between traditional enthusiast branding and companies better known for taking the budget end of the spectrum, A-Data -- not OCZ, Corsair, or Kingston -- has just broken a benchmarking record of its own.
"A-DATA® Technology Co., Ltd., a worldwide leading manufacturer in high performance memory products, announced today that its XPG™ DDR3 memory modules have broke a new world record on SuperPi 32m," A-Data stated in a press release. "The record was set by utilizing the DFI Lanparty UT X58 motherboard and XPG X Series v2.0 memory, the DDR3-2133X v2.0 2GBx3 triple-channel kit."
The new record now sits at 6min 40sec 360ms, which required overclocking A-Data's triple-channel DDR3-2133X v2.0 kit to 2237MHz with 8-7-7-21 latencies. A-Data didn't say how much voltage it took to reach that frequency, but if we had to guess, we'd say it ran high. The same kit comes rated at 2.05V-2.15V with 10-10-10-30 latencies at its stock frequency.
Systems builders have been living high on the hog when it comes to memory, and why shouldn't they be when considering how far RAM prices have fallen in the past year. Even builds with basics tasks in mind can be found rocking with 4GB or RAM, which at one time would have been a costly proposition.
We won't go so far as to say these good times are coming to end, but prices are heading back up it seems. According to Robert W. Baird and Company, Inc., fully tested DDR2 spot prices are up between 1 and 3 percent. NAND Flash contract pricing is up even more to the tune of 7 to 30 percent. Meanwhile, memory companies' attempts to cut back production have resulted in a 22 percent worldwide DRAM production since September.
In other memory related news, Robert W. Baird and Company says ProMOS, Elpida, and PSC must resubmit plans for DRAM bailout funds. Candidates selected to receive bailout funds aren't expected to finalized until later this month.
Don't read DDR2's eulogy just yet, the last generation memory standard still has some life left. Citing un-named motherboard makers, DigiTimes says the DDR3 generation won't fully take hold until sometime in 2010.
AMD and Intel were both expected to push DDR3-only platforms in 2009, but neither one is ready to fully commit. For Intel's part, DigiTimes claims demand for its Core i7 processors and X58 chipsets hasn't yet met expectations, prompting the chip maker t postpone its DDR3-only 5-series chipsets until much later in the year, likely around September.
Rival chip maker AMD isn't in a position to push DDR3-only platforms either, but it has more to do with technical difficulties than less-than-expected demand, says DigiTimes. According to the report, the struggling chip maker hasn't yet achieved full stability and compatibility with the DDR3-controller that comes integrated in the company's AM3-based processors.
Meanwhile, the memory market continues to struggle, resulting in some tantalizing DDR2 and DDR3 prices all around. A 4GB DDR2-1066 kit can now be bought for under $50, or half that if willing to play the mail-in-rebate game. A 4GB DDR3-1333 kit runs a bit higher at around $70 and up, or around $150 for a 6GB triple channel kit. Kind of makes you sick to think back on that enthusiast 2GB DDR2 kit you paid over $200 for just a couple of short years ago.
The runaway train wreck of memory lawsuits started by Rambus may finally be coming to an end. In a U.S. District Court, Judge Sue L. Robinson has ruled that Rambus’s patent suit against Micron Technologies is “unenforceable”. In her ruling she specifically cites “spoliation”, which is defined as the “destruction or alteration of evidence”. Essentially Rambus has been accused of failing to preserve documents that could be admitted as evidence. This news comes as an incredible relief to Micron Technologies, the single largest U.S. manufacturer of memory chips. Though this ruling is specific to the Micron case, if it holds up in the inevitable appeal, several other companies facing Rambus lawsuits such as Nvidia, Samsung, Hitachi, and Hynix may also be spared.
Judge Robinson also voiced her disapproval for Rambus’s aggressive tactics by using lawsuits against competitors. In her ruling she quotes a specific email from September 29th 1999 whereby the author declares the “need to sue a dram company to set an example”. The email also specifically states that they should attempt to publicize the patents and lawsuits to “put all dram/controller companies that use sdram/ddr….on notice.”
Rambus has publically denounced the ruling and according to senior vice president Tom Lavelle, “"We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with this opinion, and at the appropriate juncture plan to appeal." "This opinion is highly inconsistent with the findings of the Court in the Northern District of California which looked at the same conduct and found there was nothing improper with our document retention practices. We are confident in the strength of our position and will continue to vigorously pursue fair compensation for the use of our patented inventions."
The SD Association recently announced a new card spec called SDXC (short for extended capacity) that will be able to support up to 2TB of memory with read/write speeds of 104MB/second.
If what they say is true, then that means that one of these SD cards will be able to store 100 high-def movies, 60 hours of HD recording or 17,000 high-resolution photos on a portable device.
Keeping in mind that this is still simply a spec, not an actual product, it’s feasible that we’ll see products based off of this as early as next year. And with memory of this capacity in such a small package, it’s possible that this could help the industry as a whole.