Samsung To Mass Produce High-Density NAND Flash Memory Devices

Samsung Electronics yesterday announced it has begun mass producing high-density NAND flash devices. Analysts predict a fall in memory card prices is not too far off.

NAND flash memory is the chip technology used to store data and applications inside cell phones, MP3 players, and industrial equipment. Flash chips retain their memory even when their power supply is cut off.

Samsung’s advanced 70-nanometer process technology will allow the company to churn out flash memory with larger storage densities at lower prices. An advanced Argon fluoride photo-lithography light source has been deployed to etch the finer circuitry permitted by the 70 NM process.

Samsung’s 70 NM, 4 GB NAND flash writes data at 16-megabytes per second, a 50 percent enhancement over a 90 NM, 2 GB device to enable real-time data storage of high-definition video images. Samsung will be able to product 50 to 60 percent more chips from a single wafer.

Price Wars Escalate

Brian Matus, vice president of market research for IC Insights, told TechNewsWorld that Samsung’s innovation could drive NAND prices down in what is an escalating flash memory price war.

“Samsung wants to get its parts on the market because there is demand,” he said. “The high density , smaller process geometry is allowing Samsung to produce in mass quantities. That puts a lot of pressure on others to step up to the plate produce similar devices or offer similar pricing.”

Semiconductor companies industry-wide are seeking advanced technologies to expand chip production. Samsung is leading the way with plans to raise its production from about 240,000 wafers per month to as high as 290,000 wafers per month by the end of the year. Matus said Samsung is the first to produce NAND flash in volume at 70 nanometers.

Billion-Dollar Market

Samsung is already the undisputed industry leader for NAND flash memory production. The company boasted nearly 60 percent share of the market at the end of March. Toshiba is the closest competitor, with about 25 percent of the market, according to IDC.

Samsung’s 60 percent marks healthy revenues. According to market research firm Gartner, Dataquest, 4 GB NAND flash will account for more than 30 percent of total expected sales of US$8 billion in NAND flash memory this year.

Matus said the dropping prices will eventually weed out some of the smaller players that have jumped into the flash memory market. Samsung, then, may take a short-term loss with lower prices, but it will ultimately work in its favor, according to analysts.

“Some companies that aren’t as heavily invested in this market as Samsung may not make it,” Matus said. “This puts a lot of pressure on companies that are still building parts at 90 nanometers or 130 nanometers. It’s difficult to get any traction and make the higher margins. But the lower prices make for an attractive market for consumers and OEMs.”

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