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Naysayers, optimists clash on DRAM forecasts

Posted: 11 Aug 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share


"Most of the year's growth is forecasted to occur in the second half of the year, with each of the final two quarters of 2010 expected to post sequential bit growth of approximately 11 percent," Howard said. "In comparison, bit growth in the first two quarters of 2010 topped out at far below the 10 percent mark. Such high levels of growth, concentrated in a six-month period, will strain the production capabilities of DRAM suppliers."

However, two issues potentially might negatively impact second-half DRAM availability, according to iSuppli. As reported, ASML cannot ship enough 193-nm immersion scanners in the market as a whole. Nikon is behind the curve in the arena.

"While ASML appears capable this year of delivering an additional 33 immersion scanners, it will not be enough to resolve the bottleneck," iSuppli believes.

Secondly, without 193nm immersion scanners, DRAM makers will have trouble scaling beyond 50nm. Samsung, Hynix and Micron have obtained 193nm immersion scanners and other tools to move beyond 50nm.

"However, for resource-constrained companies or for those currently negotiating the transition, difficulties accompanying such a move might reduce their total output, negatively impacting the industry's overall bit growth in the process," according to the firm.

For example, Elpida Memory Inc. is expected to move from 6xnm processes to 45nm"a considerable lithographic jump that presents confounding yield problems," according to the firm.

Still, the question is clear: How far can DRAM makers scale their products? The DRAM will scale "as far as people have the money to do it," said Bob Merritt, an analyst at Convergent Semiconductors LLC. "It's becoming more and more expensive. It will become a cost-prohibitive slope."

Like the NAND crowd, the DRAM players hope to extend 193nm immersion lithography as far as possible. But for next-generation DRAM production, Samsung is pushing hard for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. EUV tools could cost $100 million or more per unit. Immersion scanners are $50 million or more.

There are some material issues as well. Some DRAM makers moved from hafnium oxide to zirconium for the capacitor dielectric starting at 50nm.

Then, there is a huge debate taking place in the industry. Some DRAM makers will extend zirconium for the capacitor dielectric, while others are looking at a new material called strontium, said Tod Higinbotham, executive vice president and general manager of microelectronics at ATMI Inc., a materials maker.

DRAM makers may be able to extend zirconium for "two generations," he said. Then, strontium may be required, which could get the DRAM down to the 2xnm-node, he said.

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