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Numonyx, Elpida forge memory foundry deal

Posted: 11 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:foundry deal? flash memory? wafer fab?

Flash-memory upstart Numonyx B.V. has signed on its first silicon foundry partner, by announcing a deal with Japan's Elpida Memory Inc.

Under the terms, Elpida will make NOR-based flash memory devices in its 300mm wafer fab in Hiroshima for Numonyx. Elpida will make 65- and 45nm devices on a foundry basis for the flash-memory vendor. DRAM specialist Elpida recently entered the foundry market, as part of a deal with Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corp.

Numonyx will continue make devices within its own fabs and utilize Elpida's fab before it equips its own 300mm M6 wafer fab in Catania, Italy, which has been an empty shell for many years.

Numonyx is the memory spin-off of Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics NV. ST holds a 49 percent stake in Numonyx, Intel has 45 percent and Francisco Partners owns 6 percent. The new venture, which was recently formed, is pushing NOR, NAND and phase-change memory based on technology from Ovonyx Inc.

Numonyx and Elpida have begun technology transfer and development work within Elpida's fab, with initial production expected in the middle of next year. Elpida will allocate a portion of its capacity of approximately 120,000 wafers per month to Numonyx for the production of both 65nm NOR flash products as well as the upcoming 45nm process technology.

Lagging behind
The Intel-ST joint venture is somewhat behind the competition in 300mm production. The company owns the 300mm fab in Italy, but it has dropped hints that it will not equip the plant until 2010. With the Elpida deal, Numonyx could push that date out even further, observers speculated.

NOR rival Spansion Inc. has its own fabs, including a 300mm plant in Japan. Spansion began ramping up the 300mm fab last year. Moreover, it has various foundry alliances with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd and China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp.

Numonyx and Spansion claim to be the largest suppliers of NOR, which has been hard hit by a capacity glut for some time. Both companies are attempting to keep their capital spending budgets in control by working with the foundries.

Numonyx will continue to make chips in its own fabs and has no plans of going fabless, said Brian Harrison, president and chief executive of the chipmaker. The company is working with Elpida in order to gain quick access to "cost-efficient, 300mm capacity," he said. "The alternative is to spend billions of dollars to start a fab."

At present, Numonyx makes NOR flash at a 200mm wafer fab in Kiryat Gat, Israel, which was Intel's Fab 18 and has now been relabeled Fab 1. The company has the Ang Mo Kio wafer fab in Singapore, which is known as Fab 2. That 200mm fab was owned by ST.

Within those fabs, the company is making NOR devices down to 65nm. Numonyx is also manufacturing NAND flash memory at a joint venture 300mm wafer fab in Wuxi, China, which is majority owned by Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc.

Numonyx' parent companies, Intel and ST, are also making flash memories for the company. But by year's end, Numonyx plans to bring in that capacity "to our fabs," Harrison said.

Memory challenges
Numonyx was officially launched 100 days ago. Providing an update of its business activities, Harrison said the integration of the memory operations of Intel and ST is a "massive undertaking." So far, the integration efforts are "going well," he said. "There's always work to be done."

The problem is whether or not the market will cooperate. NAND faces a "very challenging price environment," he said. Numonyx sells NAND devices in select sectors like STBs and automotive and "stays away from the most brutal parts of the market."

NOR is also under pressure, as the overall market is declining by a single-digit figure every year. "We have some growth opportunities in NOR," he said.

Still to be seen, however, is if the company can ramp up its products based on phase-change memory. Intel has been doing R&D on ovonic unified memory (OUM)or phase-change memorywith Ovonyx since 2000. OUM is seen as a possible replacement for NOR flash. In 2000, Intel took a stake in Ovonyx. ST entered development with Ovonyx in 2001.

Numonyx has finally shipped phase-change memory products amid some delays, after introducing the device last year. That device, codenamed "Alverstone," is a 90nm, 128Mbit part. Going forward, Numonyx is skipping the 65nm node for the next device and moving "as quickly as possible" to the 45nm node.

"It is a legitimate technology," he said, but phase-change memory "is still a year-and-a-half away from being mainstream."

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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