450mm wafers set to polarise semi industry

There will be clear winners and losers in the semiconductor market once the big players adopt 450mm wafers over the next few years. And the biggest losers are set to be the Taiwanese DRAM manufacturers, according to Malcolm Penn, CEO of semi market research company Future Horizons.

Intel, Samsung, TSMC, IBM and Global Foundries are followers of the Global 450 Consortium announced at the end of last month, and AMD will probably be forced to follow, said Penn.

But others probably can’t bear the expense. Sandisk and Toshiba will likely be forced to follow or suffer the slings and arrows of a Samsung waving its 18 inch wafer.

Penn said that the motivations for investing in 450mm wafers for the big players are clear. Once everything is up to scratch, the players will see a 30 percent die cost reduction as well as increased wafer capacity demand. The third reason, which no players will acknowledge, is to kill the competition.

The big five Taiwanese DRAM makers – Nanya, Inotera, Powerchip, ProMOS and Rexchip are at least one process node behind Samsung, and together owe $15 billion. Although they have 30 percent of total industry capacity, Penn said that they are trapped in a DRAM “valley of death”. Flash manufacturers are, however, in a “roses, roses” situation right now.

But, Penn said, even the mighty Intel doesn’t know what capacity it might need in three years’ time. There are several possibilities as to what might happen according to Penn. Micron could take a bigger share in Nanya, while Elpida could swallow up Rexchip and grab a bigger stake in Powerchip. He said that next year could prove to be a do-or-die year for the Taiwanese manufacturers, while the future of Hynix is currently unsure.