Intense competition in the fast-growing market for flash, and the expected wave of nonvolatile memories from DRAM manufacturers (see WaferNews, V11n05, February 2, 2004) are forcing other big-name flash suppliers to recalculate their investments in the technology.
No. 2 flash supplier Toshiba Corp. has announced an increase in capital spending for NAND-based memory devices and has moved up the start of production in a planned 300mm fab for flash in Yokkaichi, Japan, to 2005 from an original schedule of early 2006. The ¥200 billion ($1.9 billion) plant is scheduled to begin 300mm production with capacity for 10,000 wafers/month, using 70nm technology being jointly developed with SanDisk Corp.
Not to be outdone, Intel Corp.—which lost its flash market lead in 2003—is preparing to announce its 300mm wafer strategy for NOR-based flash memories, which will be produced on a new 90nm technology. Despite rumors and speculation that Intel might decide to drop out of flash—after slipping to No. 4 in revenues behind Samsung, Toshiba, and archrival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s FASL LLC joint venture with Fujitsu Ltd.—the world's largest semiconductor company is preparing to take on NAND-based flash in data storage applications by tailoring NOR-based devices for certain data applications in addition to program or code storage.
"We believe with some minor changes to the way we architect our devices, we can drive down the cost and play very competitively in the 'low-end' data market," hinted Ed Dollar, director of marketing for Intel's flash products group (FPG) in Folsom, CA. Intel plans to announce details in mid-February about its new strategy to compete directly with NAND-based flash in data storage applications using its multilevel cell technology, advanced processes, 300mm capacity, and advanced die-stacking chip-scale packages for mobile systems.
"With our multilevel cell technology, we are very competitive. We have made a decision to increase our investment," Dollar said. "The FPG teams are very excited, and we're going to double down, so to speak, and go after this market." To do that, Intel plans to leverage its microprocessor technology and fab investments, since it gave up DRAMs in the mid-1980s. Dollar said he would be concerned about DRAM makers moving into NAND flash "if we didn't have our IA [Intel Architecture] to draft off of. We have a very generous big brother," he added, referring to Intel's expanding fleet of 300mm processor fabs.
The growth in NAND flash has caught the attention of AMD's FASL joint venture with Fujitsu, which currently only makes NOR-based flash targeted mainly for program and code storage in mobile devices. "For the 2006 timeframe, we actually are undertaking research that investigates using MirrorBit [multibit cell] technology for NAND, or perhaps using a four-bit cell based on MirrorBit technology," said John Nation, AMD marketing manager for the FASL venture in Austin, TX. "Both NOR and NAND flash are being positioned as data or mass storage solutions. The market will define how those technology are used," he said, adding that AMD does not believe the onslaught of NAND flash chips from DRAM suppliers will "commoditize" the nonvolatile memory segment. Moreover, AMD believes the use of multibit cell technology will allow it to avoid expensive 300mm fabs and advanced processes while increasing storage density of devices. — J.R.L.