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Hynix, Numonyx collaborate on NAND

Posted: 08 Aug 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND flash-memory  NAND flash controllers  DRAM  48nm technology 

Intel spin-off Numonyx B.V and STMicroelectronics Inc. are teaming up with Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc. in a major push in the NAND flash-memory market.

Under the terms, Numonyx and Hynix have disclosed a new, five-year agreement to expand their joint development programmes in NAND. The companies will co-develop products and processes in the arena, including a yet-to-be-announced 41nm line-up.

The companies will also devise NAND flash controllers and software. They will also collaborate on mobile DRAM used in multi-chip packages for mobile phones.

And the companies will explore future NAND technologies. This includes charge-trap device NAND, which could replace the current mainstream floating-gate technology.

The collaboration between Numonyx and Hynix is expected to share the costs and risks associated with the development of NAND, said Saul Zales, vice president of business development for Numonyx. Upstart Numonyx sells NOR flash memory devices and supplies NAND flash for select markets.

The partnership is also expected to accelerate their efforts in NAND technology. In some respects, Hynix and Numonyx are slightly behind the curve.

At present, Numonyx is shipping NAND parts based on 48nm technology, according to Zales. The company ''is about to roll'' a 41nm line, but he did not elaborate on the details or shipment dates. In comparison, the Intel-Micron duo recently rolled out a 34nm part.

While it is in third place in overall market share, ''Hynix comes out last on almost all fronts'' in NAND process technology,'' said Daniel Amir, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets, in a report. ''While Hynix lags in the race to smaller diameters, it seems it will attempt to defend its market share with 48nm, x3 production beginning in 2Q 09. We expect the company to begin production of 34nm SLC NAND in Q1 '10.''

Meanwhile, the Hynix-Numonyx deal represents the latest partnership in the NAND arena. For years, Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. have had a major partnership in NAND. Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. have a joint NAND manufacturing venture, dubbed IM Flash Technologies LLC.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd is one of the few that can go it alone. In terms of market share, Samsung is the leader in NAND, followed by Toshiba. Hynix, Intel, Micron and others also compete in the arena.

Numonyx wants to compete in select NAND markets, particularly the mobile and embedded spaces, Zales said. And unlike many of its rivals, it is also not building fabs at an alarming rate. In fact, Numonyx recently signed on its first silicon foundry partner, by announcing a deal with Japan's Elpida Memory Inc.

Formed this year, Numonyx is the memory spin-off of Intel and ST. ST holds a 49 per cent stake in Numonyx, Intel has 45 per cent and Francisco Partners owns 6 per cent. The new venture is selling NOR, NAND and phase-change memory based on technology from Ovonyx Inc.

Numonyx and Hynix are no strangers to each other. Before the formation of Numonyx, STMicroelectronics and Hynix were partners in NAND. ST and Hynix co-developed processes and NAND products, according to Zales.

ST and Hynix also had a joint 300mm fab venture in Wuxi, China. With the formation of Numonyx, Numonyx and Hynix are now the partners in the Wuxi fab. Like before, the fab venture is majority owned by Hynix.

Going forward, Numonyx wants to evolve the partnership with Hynix. The two companies will engage in a much ''deeper and broader collaboration," as compared to the Hynix-ST alliance, Zales told EE Times.

''To become successful in the rapidly evolving semiconductor industry, addressing technology issues jointly rather than independently reduces the risk by leveraging the best of both companies," said Jong-Kap Kim, chairman and CEO of Hynix, in a statement.

''Future joint technology development will be the key success factor in our alliance and we expect to make significant progress in developing memory solutions by focusing on the introduction of new products through systematic co-development in product, software and controller areas,'' Kim said. ''Together, Hynix and Numonyx will develop a complete range of products on leading edge technologies that will enable both companies to win in the NAND segment.''

Hynix also hopes to see an upturn in NAND and DRAM. For some time, there has been a major downturn in both arenas.

Recently, Hynix reported revenues of Rs.7,793.36 crore ($1.82 billion) for the quarter, up 16 per cent from the previous quarter. Net loss for the quarter amounted to Rs.2,986.74 crore ($697.5 million). Hit hard by the memory downturn, Hynix posted a loss of Rs.2,900.67 crore ($677.4 million) in the first quarter.

Who's the leader?
Besides the poor business climate, Hynix—and Numonyx—face other challenges, namely keeping up with its rivals.

''We think both SanDisk and Micron are positioned well against the competition. In the short term we believe that Toshiba-SanDisk have some advantage in the marketplace with their 43nm,'' said Amir.

''However, in 1H 09 we see IM Flash with a clear lead on its 35nm production until SanDisk is able to shrink its x3 to 43nm to be competitive,'' he said. ''In 2H 09 we see all the major players reaching a similar cost structure unless IM Flash moves more rapidly below 3xnm node. We see Micron as having the biggest upside on its current NAND business in terms of cost, with SanDisk's cost structure depending on the success with its x3.''

And let's not forget Samsung. ''Samsung is on par with Micron at almost every density in 2008,'' he added. ''Overall, we believe Samsung is investing more heavily than the rest of the players to gain share. Although it is on par with SanDisk in its MLC roadmap, its 3-bit-per-cell success or failure could change the outlook.''

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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