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Taiwan eyes NAND flash market

Posted: 25 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Gartner? ProMos? Powerchip? Nanya? NAND?

Taiwan's DRAM makers, Nanya Technology Corp., Powerchip Semiconductor Corp. and ProMos Technologies Inc., over the years have made various bold statements about entering the NAND fraywith little or nothing to show for it. Local DRAM vendors are clearly late to the NAND market, mainly because they lack the necessary patents and technology to compete in the arena.

Taiwan appears to be moving towards a safer flash foundry strategy, in which vendors would make parts for other companies. Or are they? With little or no fanfare, at least two ambitious Taiwanese players hope to put their own stamps in the NAND sector.

Nanya said that it has been looking at entering the NAND flash-memory business but has not disclosed its plans in flash. Meanwhile, Powerchip, recently announced a licensing agreement with Renesas covering the technology and sale of Renesas' AG-AND flash memory devices. It also gives Powerchip the right to sell AG-AND flash memory under its own brand name.

Powerchip has also taken another step in the flash foundry sector. In January, the company said it would buy a 300mm wafer fab shell from fellow Taiwanese company Macronix International in order to help it meet growing demand for high-density data flash. As part of the deal Macronix is set to partner with Powerchip on future development of flash chips, including those made on 90nm technology, and use Powerchip as a foundry.

But in a more major development on the island, DRAM specialist ProMos claims to have moved into "trail production" in what is considered Taiwan's first proprietary NAND flash-memory part. Build around its own design, ProMos' 1Gbit NAND part is based on a 130nm process. It is being manufactured in the company's 200mm fab in Hsinchu, according to a report from Gartner Inc.

The technology is far behind the competition, but ProMos also plans to accelerate its R&D efforts in what could be considered a game of catch-up. "ProMos does not plan to begin mass production of 130nm NAND flash chips before the first half of 2007," said Ben Lee, Gartner analyst, in a report. "In response to market demand, ProMos will launch sub-60nm production for memory chips larger than 16Gbit at its 300mm fabs."

Last year, ProMos held an inauguration ceremony for its second 300mm fab. The company also said that a third 300mm plant is on the drawing board, which could be the home for future NAND production. But for the most part, ProMos will build DRAMs in that fab. The company also plans to deploy a 60nm process for DRAM production in the fab, based on technology from its DRAM partner, South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor by 2008, Lee said.

In any case, it's unclear if Taiwan can compete against the likes of Hynix, IM Flash, Samsung, Toshiba and the other NAND players in the market. Like DRAMs, however, Taiwan could become a viable niche player in NAND. Or, the opportunistic Taiwanese vendors could delay the entry, given the current and terrible pricing trends in NAND, analyst said.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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