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Toshiba-SanDisk overtake Intel-Micron in NAND process race

Posted: 26 Apr 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND? flash memory? 19nm process technology? 2bit-per-cell 64Gb? NAND chips?

Nearly two weeks ago, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. blazed the trail and took the NAND flash market to the 20nm process node.

A week later, Intel and Micron found out they had lost the lead. SanDisk Corp. and Toshiba Corp., which share a manufacturing venture in Japan, have overtaken the duo, claiming they have fabricated NAND flash memories with 19nm process technology.

This was seen as a major surprise. SanDisk and Toshiba were expected to announce a 1x-nm-class NAND device, but not until year's end, observers said. So, in other words, Intel and Micron held the NAND process lead for a mere seven days.

This latest technology from the SanDisk-Toshiba duo has already been applied to 2bit-per-cell, 64Gb chips. This enables 8GB on a single chip. Toshiba and SanDisk will also add 3bit-per-cell products fabricated with the 19nm process technology to its product lineup.

The 19nm process will be ramped up within Fab 4not Fab 5at its Yokkaichi Operations in Japan, according to Toshiba. Yokkaichi Operations currently has four NAND flash memory fabs. Toshiba and SanDisk have been ramping production in Fab 4a 300mm plant.

Last year, Japan's Toshiba started the construction of a new NAND flash memory fab, dubbed Fab 5, also a 300mm plant. Construction work is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2011.

Toshiba said samples of the 2bit-per-cell, 64Gb line will be available at the end of this month, with mass production scheduled for the third quarter of the year.

Application of the 19nm generation process technology will further shrink chip size, allowing Toshiba to assemble 16 64Gb NAND flash memory chips in one package and to deliver 128GB devices for smartphones and tablet PCs. The 19nm process products are also equipped with Toggle DDR2.0, which enhances data transfer speed.

For its part, SanDisk will sample its 19nm, 64Gb X2 device this quarter and expects to begin high-volume production in the second half of 2011. At that time, SanDisk will also add 3bits-per-cell products fabricated with the 19nm process technology to its product lineup.

SanDisk's so-called All-Bit-Line (ABL) architecture with proprietary programming algorithms and multilevel data storage management schemes help yield multilevel cell (MLC) NAND flash memory chips that do not sacrifice performance or reliability.

In a statement, Yoram Cedar, executive vice president and chief technology officer of SanDisk, said: "Products based on this technology are designed to enable new applications, form factors and consumer experience that will continue to drive the flash industry to new heights."

For some time, the duo of Toshiba and SanDisk were the process technology leaders in the market. The two companies are ramping up a 24nm NAND line. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd are also separately ramping up 2x-nm-class devices.

Then, two weeks ago, Intel and Micron grabbed the lead. The companies introduced a new 20nm process technology for manufacturing NAND flash memory. Manufactured by IM Flash Technologies LLC (IMFT), Intel and Micron's NAND flash joint venture, the new 20nm process produces an 8GB MLC NAND flash device. The device had been expected.

Now, SanDisk and Toshiba have trumped the Intel-Micron partnership. "We are excited to introduce the world's smallest and lowest-cost NAND flash chips based on industry-leading 19nm process technology in our ongoing collaboration with our manufacturing partner Toshiba," said Cedar.

On the down side, however, Toshiba has told customers it will have to halve its output of NAND flash memory ICs in May and June because of a shortage of blank wafers and other materials, according to a Digitimes report that referenced unnamed industry sources.

- Mark LaPedus
??EE Times

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