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Samsung remains upbeat despite memory slump

Posted: 10 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:memory market? flat panel? semiconductor business? Samsung report?

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd gave a progress report on its flat panel display and semiconductor businesses, saying the LCD segment is seeing strong growth but the IC sector is showing mixed results. In ICs, its logic and foundry businesses are up, however, the memory business, which includes DRAMs and flash, remains challenging.

Memory recovery
At the event, Jon Kang, president of the company's U.S. subsidiary, Samsung Semiconductor Inc., dropped hints that the company remains ahead in the NAND flash technology race. Samsung has produced a 30nm class NAND device, which enabled the development of a 64Gbit chip, Kang said during the press event.

The disclosure was an obvious swipe at the Intel-Micron duo, which recently announced a 34nm NAND process that enabled a 32Gbit chip.

Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research Inc., said that Samsung has developed prototypes of a 30nm class NAND device but the company's production devices are in the 40nm class. Samsung has talked about a 30nm class NAND device for some time, he added.

The big question is whether the memory market will recover. The DRAM, NAND and NOR markets are in the midst of a major lull.

"The first half has been challenging for NAND," said Jim Elliott, VP of memory marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, in an interview after the event. "We are cautiously optimistic in the second half."

Many of the traditional NAND markets are maturing. But one of the new NAND drivers is solid-state drives (SSDs). By 2010, SSDs will gobble up 10-to-15 percent of the world's NAND production, Elliot said.

To date, however, 50 or more vendors are selling SSDs, including the NAND flash players Intel, Micron, Samsung and Toshiba. There is also a plethora of companies selling NAND controllers, including Samsung.

The outlook is also mixed for DRAMs. "The outlook is flat to slightly down" in 2008," he said. "We are setting the groundwork for a recovery."

There are two major events taking place in DRAMs, which give vendors some ray of hope. First, a number of DRAM vendors, mostly in Taiwan, are cutting their capital spending. Second, PC unit shipments are expected to jump 13 percent this year, he added.

Other IC markets
Unlike memory, there are some positive trends in the company's logic chip business. Samsung sells application processors, which has turned into a major business for the company. It has benefitted from major design wins for Apple's iPod and iPhone products.

Samsung also sells CMOS image sensors, DTV chips, DVD devices, among others. Samsung's logic business has seen a compound annual growth rate of 24 percent from 2001 to 2007, said Richard Yeh, director of marketing for Samsung Semiconductor's LSI business. "Our business has been a great growth story," he said.

The company claims to be the world's largest chipmaker in yet another market: portable navigation devices. In this field, Samsung is shipping ARM-based processors, built around a 65nm process.

One emerging portable navigation vendor, Dash Navigation Inc., is using Samsung's 400MHz S3C2440 processor. The product, Dash Express, collects data from people driving real commute routes and during real commutes times.

Not to be outdone, the South Korean firm has also cracked the top 10 in the foundry market in terms of sales. Samsung is part of IBM's "fab club," which has helped propel the company into a contender in the leading-edge foundry business.

"Customers want choices," said Ana Molnar Hunter, VP of technology for Samsung Semiconductor's System LSI foundry business.

Samsung is in foundry production at the 65nm node and has delivered prototypes at 45nm, Hunter said. Samsung is "on the fence" in terms of developing a half-step 40nm process technology, she added.

IBM, Chartered and Samsung are also developing a 32nm process. IBM is set to ship wafers by the end of 2009, with the other partners slated to deliver product a quarter later. "Our 32nm technology looks pretty good," she added.

Increasing LCD TV share
After six months of domination by the once-unknown brand Vizio Inc., the North American LCD-TV market in Q4 07 saw the return of more established names to the top sales ranksSamsung and Sony.

Samsung Electronics in Q4 became the number-one seller of LCD-TVs in North America, with its unit-shipment market share rising to 14.2 percent, up from 12.8 percent in Q3, according to iSuppli. The South Korean company was ranked second in Q3.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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