Samsung Micron and SK Hynix have all released 128-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips.
The global NAND flash memory market clearly recovered in the third quarter, and shipments of major storage vendors such as Samsung, Armor (formerly Toshiba Storage), and Micron all increased significantly. Under this circumstance, the major manufacturers have stepped up their competitive card slots in order to occupy a favorable position in the new round of market competition. Samsung, Micron, and SK Hynix have all released 128-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips, pushing the battle for stacking NAND flash memory to a new level.
The market is picking up, the flash memory industry is now growing at 10.2%
Benefiting from the arrival of the shopping season at the end of the year, consumer electronics terminal manufacturers prepared in advance, and the high inventory was gradually digested, and the NAND flash memory market lasted for more than a year. The cold winter finally began to warm in the third quarter. According to a survey conducted by Trend Micro Consulting, NAND flash memory shipments increased in the third quarter of 2019, with a growth rate of nearly 15%, and operating income increased by 10.2% on average to approximately $ 11.9 billion.
Several large storage companies are also doing well. Samsung ’s shipments in the third quarter increased by 10% compared with the second quarter. Due to the stable performance of inventory levels, the unit price of product sales also fell to 5%, and revenue reached US $ 3.987 billion, an increase of 5.9% over the second quarter. SK Hynix ’s shipments increased by 40% in the second quarter, and shipments slowed slightly in the third quarter, which decreased by 1% month-on-month. However, because of stable sales prices, overall revenue was also relatively stable, reaching US $ 1.146 billion. MoM increased by 3.5%. As for Kai Xia, although the aftermath of the power outage at the Yokkaichi factory was still in the wake, under the influence of the warming of the entire market, revenue reached 2.227 billion US dollars, a quarterly increase of 14.3%. Western Digital's third-quarter shipments increased 9% from the previous quarter, with revenue of $ 1.632 billion, an increase of 8.4% from the previous quarter. Micron's third-quarter revenue rose 4.7% to $ 1.53 billion.
In short, driven by the peak sales season at the end of the year and the digestion of inventory, the NAND market has gradually picked up, and the overall market situation is developing in a good direction. In the outlook for the fourth quarter, Trends Consulting said that the rebound in market demand during the peak season will help improve the profit performance of suppliers.
Technology battle upgrades, look at 128 layers on 3D NAND
Technology upgrades have always been the main strategy for competition among memory chip companies. As the storage market turns from weak to strong and is at the node between old and new, Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, Intel, etc. have stepped up their efforts to promote new technologies and processes in order to overcome the crisis through new and old generation products, and Occupy a favorable position in the round market competition. At present, the NAND flash technology process dispute has advanced to 128 layers.
In early October, Micron announced that the first batch of fourth-generation 3D NAND memory chips was taped out. The fourth-generation 3D NAND is based on Micron's RG architecture and uses a 128-layer process. It is expected to begin commercial use in 2020. At the "Mircon Insight2019" technology conference, Sumit Sadana, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Micron Technology, said that if the 128-layer 3D NAND is widely used, it will greatly reduce the cost per bit of the product.
SK Hynix also announced in November that it will begin sampling 128-layer 3D NAND flash products, which will soon begin appearing in end-user devices. One year ago, SK Hynix launched 96-layer 3D NAND products.
In comparison, Samsung moves faster. In August this year, Samsung announced the launch of the first 100 + -layer next-generation 3D NAND flash memory. According to Samsung, the product uses "channel hole etching" technology, which increases the previous generation 96-layer stacking architecture by about 40% in memory cells. At the same time, Samsung has also optimized the circuit design so that it can achieve the fastest data transfer speed. The data transfer speed of the write operation is less than 450 μs and the read speed is less than 45 μs.
According to the schedule, 128-layer 3D NAND will not enter the enterprise storage market until next year and gradually become the mainstream. However, it can be seen from this that the new round of technology upgrade disputes among storage vendors will also become more intense. Semiconductor expert Mo Dakang pointed out that memory chips have highly standardized characteristics and a single variety, making it difficult to differentiate products. This has led manufacturers to compete in terms of process technology and production scale. Therefore, whenever the market structure changes from old to new, manufacturers often play technology cards in order to increase the density of products, reduce manufacturing costs, and gain competitive advantages through changes in new and old generation products.
To catch up with international standards, mass production capacity is the key
Compared with the international advanced level, how big is the Chinese storage industry? In September this year, Changjiang Storage announced the mass production of 64-layer 3D NAND. Yangtze River Storage stated that it will expand production in the future, but did not announce a specific expansion plan. Some people in the industry predict that by the end of next year, the wafer output will reach the scale of 60,000 wafers per month, which may account for about 5% of global production.
In terms of the market, Xinhua III Group, a subsidiary of Ziguang, said it will introduce products from Ziguang Storage SSD to its enterprise server products. Another source said that Yangtze River's NAND flash memory has received orders from other well-known companies, such as Lenovo's plan to use NAND flash memory chips in its computers.
Despite progress, China's storage industry remains weak. Mo Dakang believes that, on the surface, domestic companies '64-layer 3D NAND and international manufacturers' 128-layer are only two generations apart. The actual gap doesn't stop there. Factors to consider include not only the development of technology, the refinement of mass production processes, the improvement of yield, but also the expansion of market share. Whether the production capacity can reach 60,000 pieces / month by the end of 2020 is very important. Whether the production capacity can be increased and the yield rate can be increased, the ramp-up speed of production capacity is a pain point for enterprises.
The technical change from 2D to 3D is a rare development opportunity for China's storage industry, but how to seize this opportunity is still a challenge. "The next 12 months will be a critical period," said Mark Li, senior semiconductor analyst at Bernstein Research.