Chip makers Intel and Micron are in the process of seeing how low each company can go, and it has nothing to do with the Limbo. Instead, it has everything to do with shrinking NAND technology even further with the goal of doubling down the density of their flash chips by the time summer rolls around. Aside from being impressive from a technological point of view, lower density chips ultimately lead to lower cost solid state drives (SSDs).
Micron on Wednesday introduced a new portfolio of its RealSSD line, these newest models the first to incorporate the company's 25nm NAND flash technology.
Capacities range from 64GB to 512GB and come in both the 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch form factors. All of the new drives support SATA 6Gbps, just like the previous generation RealSSD models, but these latest units are 17 percent faster than before, Micron says. Depending on capacity, drive speeds come rated at up to 415MB/s (the flagship 512GB model comes rated at up 260MB/s write speeds, a 20 percent increase over the C300).
Micron said it's currently working with notebook makers to qualify its new RealSSD drives under the C400 product name. Samples have already started shipping and the memory maker expects mass production to begin next month.
Micron reached out to us this morning to let us know about its new ClearNAND portfolio, essentially a collection of technologies that ultimately will lead to longer lasting flash memory-based devices, like tablet PCs and portable media players.
"The pace of NAND scaling is largely responsible for the incredible growth and success the industry has seen to date, and for helping to create new flash-based storage solutions," said Glen Hawk, vice president of Micron's NAND Solutions Group. "While the advantages in NAND scaling are evident, so are the challenges with the technology becoming increasingly more difficult to manage. Micron's ClearNAND products remove this management burden for our customers and extend the life of this all-important technology."
Where Micron really sees its ClearNAND initiative paying off is when the industry advances past 20nm. At that point, "the amount of bit errors increases, dramatically impacting NAND performance and reliability." A key focus in Micron's ClearNAND product line is error management, with current offerings "intended to remove the error correction code (ECC) burden from the host processor with minimal protocol changes compared to raw NAND."
None of this means much to you, Joe User, at least not directly. But indirectly, Micron's ClearNAND tech could not only result in more reliable flash memory-based products, but less expensive hardware as well.
We've been extensively following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the DRAM market, and that's one business we're glad we're not a part of. Back in late 2008, A-DATA chairman Simon Chen said the DRAM market was the worst it has been in 15 years, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better since then.
Making the best of a bad situation, Samsung in the third quarter of 2010 became the only Top 5 DRAM supplier to achieve revenue growth, positioning itself as the dominant chip maker, market research firm iSuppli said. Samsung sold $4.4 billion worth of DRAM in the third quarter, up 14.3 percent from $3.8 billion in the second. Here's how it breaks down for everyone else:
Hynix: $2.24 billion Q3/ $2.31 billion Q2
Elpida: 1.73 billion Q3 / $1.91 billion Q2
Micron: $1.12 billion Q3 / $1.14 billion Q2
Nanya: $439 million Q3 / $473 million Q2
"Samsung has been vocal about its desire to expand its DRAM market share to as high as 50 percent," said Mike Howard, senior analyst for iSuppli. "The third-quarter results show Samsung has put its money where its mouth is. By investing heavily in expanding product and advancing its manufacturing technology, the company has been able to cut pricing and to eat into the market share of its competitors."
Samsung increased its market share from 35.4 percent in Q2 to 40.7 percent in Q3 and is on track to reach its goal in 2011.
Oracle is accusing memory chip maker Micron of conspiring to fix prices, alleging it overcharged Sun Microsystems for memory parts, Bloomberg reports.
In its complaint, Oracle said Micron and other DRAM makers "conspired to control production capacity, raise prices or slow their decline, allocate customers, and otherwise unlawfully overcharge their DRAM customers." The antitrust complaint was filed earlier this week in federal court in San Jose, California, and also names Hynix, Samsung, Eplida, and Infineon as co-conspirators.
Oracle's basing its complaint in part on a 2002 U.S. Justice Department investigation of memory chip price fixing, which ultimately resulted in four companies and 16 people being fined a total of around $731 million, Oracle claims.
Toshiba today announced it has begun mass producing NAND flash chips using a 24nm CMOS manufacturing process, representing the smallest geometry and highest density yet in NAND flash, the company said.
The announcement steals a bit of thunder from IM Flash -- a joint venture between Intel and Micron -- which said it would begin churning out 25nm-based NAND chips by the end of 2010.
"Toshiba leads the industry in fabricating high density, small die size NAND flash memory chips," Toshiba said in a statement. "Application of the 24nm generation process technology will further shrink chip size, allowing Toshiba to boost productivity and bring further enhancements to the high density, small sized products. The 24nm process products are also equipped with Toggle DDR, which enhances data transfer speed."
Toshiba says its latest technology has already been applied to 2 bit-per-cell 64Gb chips that are the world's smallest on a single chip (8GB), and will also add 32Gb and 3 bit-per-cell products fabricated on a 24nm process soon.
Thirty-three states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and others, will receive $173 million from six DRAM makers to settle a suit accusing them of fixing prices for products between 1998 and 2002. Companies named in the suit include Micron, NEC, Infineon, Hynix, Elpida, and Mosel Vitelic.
"These companies conspired in an illegal global scheme to fix prices on chips used in computer equipment sold to consumers, schools, and government offices," California Attorney General Edmund 'Jerry' Brown Jr. said in a statement. "The large price tag of this settlement should serve as a warning that we will crack down on any manufacturers around the world that choose to gouge consumers through illegal price-fixing schemes."
It is yet to be determined how much each company will pay towards the $173 million collective settlement, which is to be doled out over the course of two years plus interest to the affected consumers, schools, and government offices.
"The settlement money is welcome, but the illegal overcharging never should have happened in the first place," Brown added. "Especially when times are tight, schools and government agencies can't afford to be ripped off by companies that violate our anti-trust laws to keep profits high."
Come this summer, Micron will go gunning for the high-end enterprise hard drive market, but not with an HDD of its own. Instead, the company will release its SATA 3.0-based P300 SSD line, which it hopes will replace 10,000RPM and 15,000RPM HDDs.
"We think [the P300] is going to lend itself much better to this space," said Kevin Dibelius, senior product marketing manager for Micron.
In addition to pushing data through a 6Gbps interface, the upcoming SSD will also use ONFI (Open NAND Flash Interface) 2.1, which is a faster connection between the flash silicon and the SSD controller. If all this sounds familiar, it's because Micron's existing C300 series share the same specs. The P300 series, however, will use SLC (single-level cell) technology instead of the cheaper MLC (multi-level cell) technology found in the C300 series.
Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but Micron did say the P300 line will ship in 50GB, 100GB, and 200GB capacities starting in June.
Micron, a major player in the memory chip market who also sells its own line of computer memory kits under its Crucial branding, appears unfazed about the looming memory shortage industry analysts have been squawking about. Shortage or not, Micron isn't going to increase production, and instead is focusing on process geometry shrinks.
Micron isn't the only unwilling to ramp up production. Samsung's main chip guy, Oh-Hyun Kwon, warned DRAM makers against knee-jerk reactions into capacity expansion projects, and said more investments should be made towards advancing memory technology.
Powerchip Semiconductor Corporation (PSC) chairman Fran Huang sang a similar tune, telling DRAM makers they should take a cautious approach to expansion, lest the memory industry repeat the same mistakes all over again and saturate the market.
Micron earlier this week announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Numonyx in an all-stock transaction that would value the company at $1.27 billion.
"Acquiring Numonyx brings together two memory leaders and positions Micron to offer the most comprehensive, cost-competitive solutions in the industry to a broad range of customers and end-markets," said Steve Appleton, Chairman and CEO of Micron.
The agreement has Micron issuing 140 million Micron common shares to Numonyx shareholders, Intel, STMicroelectronics, and Francisco Partners. In addition, up to 10 million more Micron common share will be issued ratably to Numonyx shareholders, the company said.
Micron says it expects Numonyx's balance sheet to be debt-free after closing the deal.