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Taiwan blackout wreaks fab havoc

Pricing on DRAMs and TFTs set to rise

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A seven-hour power black out in Taiwan last week meant a catastrophic and costly lack of silicon production for local manufacturers. That could mean a hike in the price of memory and further exacerbate the shortage of TFT panels for PC manufacturers, already hit by under-supply. The power down, which at first raised fears that Red China was about to invade Taiwan, was instead caused by a pylon falling down. But the kind of damage caused to fab production has illustrated the vulnerability of worldwide production of semiconductors. According to a source, 15,000 expensive wafers were trashed because of the loss of power. That amounts to around 760 dies per wafer, meaning as many as 11 million 64 Megabit chips went down the Swanee. That equals around 1.5 million 8 x 64 or 700 16 x 64 modules lost to the world. But the catastrophe does not end there. There are finished wafers held in bonded stock and those need to be stored at a constant temperature in a clean room environment. Taiwan is a hot and very sticky place without air conditioning. Further, said the source, the disaster has further ramifications. He said: "You can't just turn a Fab on and off like a light switch. It will take at least two weeks for the manufacturers to ensure they are producing stable products again." All DRAM manufacturers are booked solid for the next month, and the source claimed this meant prices will rise dramatically. Even though August is a quiet month, there will be a knock on effect. Manufacturers in Taiwan include UMC, TSMC, Vanguard, Mosel Vitelic and a host of others. Further, the island is already responsible for making a large number of TFT-LCD panels, and these will have been affected by the power down too. There is already a serious shortage of LCD screens which has caused most PC manufacturers to report a 20 per cent shortfall of notebooks during the first half of this year. Although some have speculated that the power out will put Taiwan in a bad light, this is a little unfair. Across the world, silicon depends on good supplies of water and electricity. As we revealed last year, even giants like Intel are subject to these factors and do not necessarily have backup systems if there is power or water failure. ®

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