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Nand shrinks: 20nm and counting

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NAND shrinks sounds like a way of describing flash psychoanalysts who sort out NAND neuroses as flash dies go a bit haywire. It actually refers to the shrinking process geometry size of cells in NAND manufacturing.

Intel Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) has just announced a 128Gbit capacity 20nm flash cell using 2-bit multi-level cell NAND, and say eight of these midget babies can be stacked to provide a single 1Tbit chip.

IMFT first announced its 2-bit, 20nm process product in April this year, when it was sampling 64Gbit product. Now it has tweaked the process and doubled both capacity and performance of that chip. How are its competitors doing?

There was mention of a 21nm process from Hynix in October last year. Hynix, which is being taken over by Korea's SK Telecom, was planning to talk about a 15nm NAND technology at the ongoing International Electron Devices Meeting in Washington, DC, at which IBM has just revealed its Racetrack memory prototype.

Hynix is currently ramping production of a 64Gbit part using a 29-20nm process, which it terms a 27nm geometry. Possibly financial troubles have delayed its 15nm effort.

We understand Samsung is at the 27nm level with 2-bit MLC product. It introduced 20nm chips in the third quarter of this year and has reportedly said it will introduce 10nm-class chips in 2012.

SanDisk/Toshiba have a 19nm technology with a 2-bit, 64Gbit die which sampled in the second quarter of this year and was on track for general availability by the end of the year. A 3-bit version was mooted by the end of 2011 too.

Intel, Samsung and Toshiba are reportedly teaming up to develop 10nm-class flash product technology.

Micron's 20nm, 2-bit flash won't actually show up in Micron SSD product until next year, according to this chart, when we can expect SATA and mSATA client products, possibly called C500, and SAS enterprise product. Initial markets will be smartphones, tablets, and ultrabooks, taking advantage of the product's finger-nail size to match space constraints inside these devices.

DRAMeXchange has flash suppliers ranked in this order:

  • First is Samsung with a 37 per cent market share;
  • second is Toshiba with 31.6 per cent;
  • third is IMFT with 29.1 per cent; and
  • fourth is Hynix with 11.8 per cent.

IMFT has Samsung in its sights and the industry leader knows it has hungry competitors. Having 20nm class product just keeps you in the race. The future: first sub-20nm process product, and then sub-10nm chips, with a post-NAND transition to unknown technology looming. The NAND game is like being on magic, unstoppable roundabouts costing billions of dollars to keep spinning while you keep hoping your competitors will be thrown off by selling too few chips to generate the cash to needed counter the centrifugal force threatening to throw them off.

No one is making bundles of money from this. They must be mad. Perhaps they need NAND shrinks after all. ®

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