Foxconn out of running for Toshiba business

Taiwan’s Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics maker, is not a favoured bidder for Toshiba memory chip business because it is too close to China.

Apparently the Japanese government has told Tosh that flogging its flash business to China  would be opposed because it means the transference of key technology.

Foxconn has plants in China, and the Japanese fear that putting the tech close to the Chinese would result in the tech leaking out due to industrial espionage and internal corruption.

Toshiba, the second-biggest NAND chip producer after Samsung, wants to sell the majority – or all – of its marquee flash-memory chip business, as it seeks to make up for a $6.3 billion writedown from its US nuclear unit Westinghouse.

Toshiba is valuing its chip business at $13.1 billion, people familiar with the matter have said. Initial bids are due by the end of the month.

Foxconn said last week it was “definitely bidding” for Toshiba’s chip business and that it was “very confident” it could buy into it.

Yesterday the Nikkei business daily reported that Foxconn has approached   SK Hynix to explore a joint bid.

TSMC, another Taiwanese firm and the world’s largest contract chipmaker, is also deeply interested in Toshiba’s chip unit.


SK Hynix expands memory chip operations


SK Hynix is investing $2.7 billion in its home country and China to boost memory chip production.

There is a bit of a boom in demand for memory chips and Hynix wants to take advantage of that.

Most of the investment will build a new plant to make NAND flash chips used for long-term data storage.

A spokes Hynix said that to grow further, it is important to secure production facilities in advance to deal with NAND Flash market growth to be led by 3D NAND solutions.

Cash will be spent on the NAND chip plant which will be in South Korea, and a big chunk to boost DRAM capacity at its existing facilities at Wuxi, China.
Analysts think strong demand for memory chips will likely continue in 2017 as it will take several years for capacity spending announced by key players to yield meaningful production growth.

Supply will also be constrained as chipmakers shift to new production methods. In the NAND market, many manufacturers are converting existing production lines to high-end 3D NAND technology.

Flash Memory Summit 2016 – Consolidation?

FMS2016_BannerAd_300x250The Flash Memory Summit 16 will be convening at the Santa Clara Convention Center over August 9 -11, 2016. Flash memory is now established as a key technology enabling new designs for many products in the consumer, computer and enterprise markets.

Storage Crossover

The industry is at a critical juncture where the total cost of ownership for flash based SSD’s achieved crossover with hard disk drive equivalents last September as the enterprise storage medium of choice.

The fact that the number of producers is limited has altered the landscape of consumption with some analysts indicating that serious shortages will exist for some time to come. An interesting, but mitigating fact is that most of the analysts are not technical – the ones that we’ve talked to that have a technical bent are not so sanguine about the availability mix. One item that stands in the road to profits is the need for this next generation storage device to not only retain data but do so interactively without losing bits. The unrecoverable bit boogie man is now staring the industry down. The ability to store immense amounts of “ready data” for execution now depends on the technologies ability to reliably retain data.

All Flash Array producers are now entering the “really big data storage array” market – the battle has dropped down to the cost of storage per dollar creating a whole new category of marketing lows. 3D Flash is now so dense that failure modes are now dependent upon being aware of “how and when” the bits were used during the entire lifetime of the device.

Cork, Ireland NVMdurance was the first to understand this phenomenon and is now firmly embedded in their first customer Altera (now Intel). Pure and Nimble Storage are offering their services for their AFAs – seems that leasing AFA memory is a probable in the future of solid state storage. We’re still left reading the indemnification clauses of their contracts.

Poison Pill

Micron Technology filed with the SEC a poison pill last Friday. The buzz is that the company is once again in play. The likely suitor is none other than Intel according to the lead rumor. We will be talking with Micron and Intel at FMS 16 and although they’ll not say anything about what’s going on we’ll at the very least get to look into their pupils while they’re telling us…,

Flash beats HDD areal density

flasherCoughlin Associates has said that NAND flash memory has surpassed hard disk drive (HDD) technology in areal density for the first time. Believe it or not.

The market researchers told the assorted throngs at the 2016 IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco that areal densities in its laboratories of up to 2.77Tbpsi for its 3D NAND. That compares with the densest HDDs of about 1.3Tbpsi.

Tom Coughlin, Coughlin Associates’ president, said that hard drive products from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015 had an increased areal density of about 60 per cent, So HDDs have not stopped evolving.

“On the other hand, flash memory is getting denser with technology announcements of 2.77Tbspi, higher than any announced HDD areal density. This is a new development. So flash is developing and certainly getting competitive in terms of areal storage density, but the chips are still more expensive to make than disks and the raw costs of storage will likely remain less for HDDs for some time to come.”

The highest areal density for today’s HDD products is about 1.3Tbpsi, according to Coughlin. Most HDD products, however, are well below that. For example, Seagate’s desktop hard drives have a maximum areal density of 850Gbpsi; those drives use shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which overlaps the magnetic tracks for greater density.

Samsung has already announced what would be industry-leading 15TB 2.5-in solid-state drives (SSDs) are already on the horizon.

However the price is not likely to reach parity with hard drives any time soon. The factories to build flash are still a lot more expensive to build than the hard drive factories, Coughlin said.

But Micron and Intel are opening new plants or are revamping older NAND facilities to increase their 3D production, which is driving prices down.


Toshiba flogs part of its chip biz

ToshibaJapan’s troubled Toshiba plans to sell part of its chip business as it aims to recover from a $1.3 billion accounting scandal.

Early interest in the sale has been shown by the Development Bank of Japan as the state-owned bank has already invested in Seiko’s semiconductor operations.

The sale would exclude Toshiba’s mainstay NAND flash memory operations which are still doing rather well.

Tosh is flogging its businesses that handle system LSI and discrete chips, which are widely used in cars, home appliances and industrial machinery. However they lost $2.78 billion in the year ended March 2015.

Toshiba has been focusing on nuclear and other energy operations, as well as its storage business, which centers on NAND flash memory chips.

Tosh wants to invest heavily in its flash memory production capacity in Japan to better compete with Samsung.


Chinese eye up Sandisk and Toshiba

Samsung DRAMA report said that state owned Tsinghua Unigroup, which alread owns a 15 percent stake in Western Digital, has its eyes set on other acquisitions too.

Tsinghua has already attempted to take over US DRAM manufacturer Micron, but a takeover is probably out of the question. However, according to a report in Digitimes, it will try and take a 10 to 20 percent stake in Micron instead.

Sandisk and Toshiba, which both make NAND flash technology, are both being eyed up by Tsinghua, according to the sources.

One problem with taking a stake in Micron is that its technology apparently uses patents licensed from third parties. But that wouldn’t happen if it managed to take over Toshiba’s flash technology and Sandisk’s.

The Chinese government has a five year plan to create its own semiconductor industry for storage, including hard drives, DRAM and NAND flash memory.

Sandisk, Toshiba and Micron haven’t commented on the report, which you can read here.

Intel-Micron announce 3D XPoint SCM technology

What-is-3D-XPointIntel and Micron announced their jointly developed 3D XPoint technology at an analyst meeting today in Santa Clara, California.

Rob Crooke, Senior VP & GM of the Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) Solutions Group, Intel Corporation and Mark Durcan, CEO Micron Technology took the stage to present the jointly developed 3D XPoint memory technology. The 300 mm wafer shown in the presentation was produced at Micron’s Lehi, Utah fab. The new devices are debuting as 128Gb, 2 Layer, Byte Addressable devices that use “bulk material property change” process – availability is limited to what’s “in (joint) production facility today” though 2016 was stated by Durcan.

The 3D XPoint technology is 1,000 times faster than Flash, 1,000 times the duration of Flash and 10 times the density of DRAM.

The new technology has been widely circulating as “Persistent Memory” and “Storage Class Memory” until now and has been widely speculated upon. One interesting quote, “no other competitors have the technology” indicates that Intel-Micron has scooped their competition in the cloud access storage marketplace.

3D XPoint Innovations

Cross Point Array Structure
Perpendicular conductors connect 128 billion densely packed memory cells. Each memory cell stores a single bit of data. This compact structure results in high performance and high density.

The initial technology stores 128Gb per die across two stacked memory layers. Future generations of this technology can increase the number of memory layers and/or use traditional lithographic pitch scaling to increase die capacity.

Memory cells are accessed and written or read by varying the amount of voltage sent to each selector. This eliminates the need for transistors, increasing capacity and reducing cost.

Fast Switching Cell
With a small cell size, fast switching selector, low-latency cross point array, and fast write algorithm, the cell is able to switch states faster than any existing nonvolatile memory technologies today.

Fast Switching Cell
With a small cell size, fast switching selector, low-latency cross point array, and fast write algorithm, the cell is able to switch states faster than any existing nonvolatile memory technologies today.

Byte Addressable Data
3D Xpoint technology allows data to be directly addressed at the byte level. Access to DRAM and 3D Xpoint memory uses the same addressing model greatly simplifying the CPU interface to data and enables Near Data Processing within an In-Memory Database system.

TechEye Take

This announcement was evidently rushed in order to beat the pre Flash Memory Summit press announcements next week – and they “blew the socks off the competition” according to one analyst source. Over 100 engineers have been involved in these well camouflaged developments which indicate the companies have spent in the billions of dollars on this program. Oh, and 3D Xpoint use Micron’s planar process indicating that the technology is near term to production. There is no mention made of TSV stacking but from all indications this technology will enter the market as stacked devices. From what we can ascertain this technology is in “rollout” – we expect production volumes ramping much sooner than might usually be expected. 

The “bulk material property change” provides no indication about process details. Connecting the memory elements with their bit-lines remains unclear – whether it’s a diode switching element or an Ovonic Switch remains to be revealed. In fact all the good questions remain unanswered – more fodder for later.

China to pour billions into semi industry

Mao Tse Tung - Wikimedia CommonsMainland China doesn’t intend to be left on the back foot when it comes to semiconductor manufacturing and will spend something like $20 billion over the next five years.

That’s according to a report from Digitimes, which said that mainland China foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Company (SMIC) has already been pumped with government money.

The report said that nearly three quarters of the money will go to manufacturing integrated circuits and equipment.

China will also put money into companies making DRAM and NAND flash, an industry that is currently dominated by South Korean firms like Samsung and SG Hynix. Those two companies already have fabrication plants (fabs) in China.

And at the end of those five years the Chinese government hopes to have at least half of domestic demand for silicon chips made locally, the report said.

Recently, Taiwanese semiconductor companies have been urging their own government to allow export of chip technology to the mainland, now that the formerly frosty relations between them have thawed.

Intel enables SSD overcocking

Intel has had a chequered past when it comes to overcocking. First it didn’t care, then it kindly asked people not to torture its lovely processors and then it realised it could make a quick buck peddling unlocked processors for enthusiasts. 

Today it’s possible to overcock just about anything, phones, tablets, CPUs, graphics cards, smart toasters. SSDs are apparently the next step. According to Xbit Labs, Intel will demonstrate SSD overcocking at IDF next month. It’s not as straightforward as overcocking a CPU, but it sure does sound a bit easier than making a 7200rpm hard drive run at 10000rpm.

SSD performance is generally dictated by two main factors, the speed and type of controller used and the speed of NAND chips. It is possible to tinker with both, although upping the controller clock sounds a bit easier. However, although it’s possible, it doesn’t exactly make too much sense.

The SATA 6Gbps is the bottleneck right now, so high-end SSDs don’t stand much to gain from overcocking. It does, however, make more sense than Intel handbags.

That said, Intel is planning to rollout SATA Express chipsets next year, effectively doubling the theoretical transfer rates and making overcocked SSDs a possibility. 

Samsung starts churning out 3D vertical NAND

Samsung is about to start producing 3D vertical NAND (V-NAND) flash chips, allowing for higher densities and more performance in a small package. 

The layers can be stacked vertically and Samsung says it can cram up to 24 layers onto a single chip.

Samsung used a special etching technology that connects the layers electronically by punching holes from the highest layer to the bottom. With the new vertical structure, Samsung can enable higher density NAND flash memory products by increasing the 3D cell layers without having to continue planar scaling, which has become incredibly difficult to achieve, the company said. 

The chips are not only smaller and denser, they are said to be two to 10 times more reliable than conventional 10nm-class floating gate flash memory.

V-NAND also offers a twofold performance gain over 10nm-class NAND and twice the scaling of 20nm-class planar NAND. 

“Following the world’s first mass production of 3D Vertical NAND, we will continue to introduce 3D V-NAND products with improved performance and higher density, which will contribute to further growth of the global memory industry,” said Jeong-Hyuk Choi, senior vice president, flash products and technology, Samsung Electronics.

With heaps of Galaxy smartphones, tablets and SSDs rolling off production lines, Samsung will have no trouble putting the technology to good use.