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Chip trio aims for 10nm class NAND

Manufacturers club together to shrink process geometries

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Intel, Samsung and Toshiba have formed an alliance to jointly devise ways to slim semiconductor line width down to the ten nanometre level, leading to higher capacity DRAM and flash memory, such as a 400GB flash chip and faster processors.

According to Reuters, Japanese business newspaper Nikkei Daily reported that the three intend to form a consortium soon. The three chip makers will work with the Ministry of Economy in Japan, along with 10 firms involved in semiconductor material development. They will be using a research facility at Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan to cook up new methods to improve the technology. The work will involve developments in photoresist resins, photomasks and chip-making tools.

The Ministry will contribute 5bn yen, with the three chipmakers clubbing together to come with another 5bn yen, totalling 10bn yen or $124.2m.

Intel is the largest chip manufacturer in the world, while Samsung and Toshiba are the top two NAND chip manufacturers respectively. This marks the first time US, Korean and Japanese chipmakers have worked together in this way with a Japanese ministry.

A 10nm class process means using process geometries between 19nm and 10nm, not literally 10nm. The idea is to develop a 10nm-class photolithography process with ultraviolet exposure devices and begin manufacturing product in 2012.

Current advanced NAND geometries are in the 26-24nm area. It is a reflection of the size of the research and developments costs involved in shrinking process geometries down below 20nm that the three companies and the Japanese ministry are getting together in this way.

As Micron is a partner with Intel in Intel Micron Flash Technologies, and SanDisk partners Toshiba in flash foundries, both Micron and SanDisk could also benefit from the initiative. Samsung is partnering Seagate to develop flash controllers, and there is a Samsung investment in PCIe flash product supplier Fusion-io. Toshiba has an investment in Violin Memory, a supplier of flash storage arrays. All these relationships mean that 10nm-class NAND chips could be used in solid state drives and PCIe flash cards quite quickly.

As well as larger NAND capacity, DRAM chip capacity could triple compared to today's chips, and there could be more cores in a microprocessor. Intel will likely not be the only microprocessor supplier to benefit from this, as both Samsung and Toshiba license ARM chip technology. ®

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