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Analysis: It's the season of memory JVs

Posted: 28 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:joint ventures? JV analysis? flash memory?

Last week's announcement of the MeiYa Technology DRAM joint venture between Taiwan's Nanya Technology Corp. and U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc. offered further evidence that JVs are in vogue!if not indispensable!in the memory industry. Given the price erosion in memories and the huge investment risk involved in the necessary migration to 12-inch wafers, more such pairings can be expected.

Existing pairs
Examples already abound. Elpida Memory Inc.!formed by NEC and Hitachi in Japan some years ago!last year teamed with Taiwan memory company Powerchip Semiconductor Corp. to form Rexchip Electronics Corp., which targets joint DRAM development and manufacturing. Powerchip also teamed last year with Renesas Technology Corp.!a company created by Hitachi and Mitsubishi!to form Vantel Co. Ltd., focusing on NAND flash and other advanced memories.

Qimonda AG, spun out from Germany's Infineon AG, has worked closely with Nanya on trench-cell-based DRAM technology and products under their joint venture Inotera Memories Inc.. Nanya's recent announcement of the MeiYa venture with Micron, which bases its DRAMs on stacked-cell technology, was a surprise to the industry (particularly Qimonda).

Trench-cell DRAM technology was once a popular approach, promoted by IBM, Toshiba and Infineon; now it has become a minority player, with only Qimonda pursuing the technology for commodity DRAM and IBM for embedded DRAM. Tellingly, Qimonda's latest DRAM road map includes stacked-cell technology beyond the 65nm process node, starting with 58nm.

Meanwhile, Qimonda recently renewed a technology license agreement with Winbond Electronics Corp., another Taiwan memory manufacturer.

Solo players
South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc. has no formal joint ventures but has been working closely with Taiwan's ProMOS Technologies on DRAM development and manufacturing. Memory industry leader Samsung Semiconductor appears to be the only player operating without JVs or outsourcing agreements at the moment. The South Korean memory giant recently opened a manufacturing facility in Texas and has been expanding on its home turf as well.

Numonyx NV, a non-volatile-memory JV between Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics, covers NOR, NAND, MCP (NAND with DRAM) and even phase-change RAM. Meanwhile, Intel's JV with Micron, IM Flash Technologies, is leveraging Intel's multilevel-cell technology for NAND flash.

Going against the tide, Qimonda and Taiwan company Macronix International Co. recently dissolved a joint development relationship under which they had been working on advanced flash process development.

But with memory prices falling and companies under pressure to migrate to 12-inch wafer manufacturing, expect more marriages of convenience between memory rivals.

- Young Choi
EE Times

Young Choi is senior manager at TechOnline.

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