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NAND competition

NAND competition heats up as SK Hynix unveils 176-layer flash memory

Dec 07, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

SK hynix's new 176-layer 512 Gb 4D NAND flash

SK Hynix Inc. has developed 176-layer NAND flash memory, the industry’s highest-density chip, following in the footsteps of Micron Technology Inc., which unveiled the world’s first such chip in November.

The South Korean chipmaker said on Dec. 7 that its latest chip improves cell read latency by 20% and data transfer speed by 33% to 1.6 gigabits per second (Gbps). The improved performance will also increase its bit productivity per wafer by 35%, enhancing its cost competitiveness, it said.

SK Hynix has already sent samples of the 176-layer 512 gigabit Triple-Level Cell (TLC) 4D NAND flash to controller companies to commercialize various solutions.

“NAND players are competing against each other to enhance chip density and maximize productivity,” said Choi Jung-dal, head of SK Hynix’s NAND development division.

“As a pioneer in 4D NAND chips, we aim to lead the industry with our advanced stacking technology.”

FASTER CHIP UNVEILED BY MID-2021

The chipmaker said it plans to release mobile solution products with up to 70% read speed and write speed improvements compared to its current 128-layer chips by the middle of 2021, before launching advanced solid-state drives (SSDs) for consumers and enterprises.

SK Hynix said it hopes to raise its competitiveness further by developing double-capacity 1 terabit (Tb) products based on 176-layer 4D NAND memory.

Graphics by Jerry Lee

The company said its higher-density NAND chips will accelerate data-intensive environments and workloads such as artificial intelligence (AI) engines and big data analytics. For 5G smartphones, the enhanced quality can enable faster launching and switching across multiple apps, creating a more responsive mobile experience and faster multitasking.

Demand for NAND memory chips used in data storage devices such as hard drives and cameras has risen since early this year owing to the global shift toward working from home in the COVID-19 pandemic era. A NAND flash is a type of non-volatile memory chip that stores data even when the power is off.

NAND PLAYERS IN CHICKEN GAME

Global NAND players are engaged in a game of chicken amid signs of a recovery in the memory chip industry.

Last month Micron surprised the market by announcing it had developed 176-layer 3D NAND flash memory, the world’s highest-density chip, at a time when most players are focused on 128-layer NAND.

Samsung, the industry leader, said last week it will invest heavily in the NAND business next year to widen the gap with its rivals. The chip industry expects Samsung to produce 176-layer or 192-layer seventh-generation V NAND chips by the first half of 2021.

SK Hynix has also vowed to triple its NAND flash memory sales within five years, buoyed by its recent acquisition of Intel Corp.’s NAND memory and storage business for $9 billion.

NAND flash chip produced by SK Hynix

SK Hynix is the world's fourth-largest NAND flash supplier with an 11.3% market share as of the third quarter, according to market researcher TrendForce. Market research firm Omdia forecasts the global NAND market will grow at an average annual rate of 33.4% until 2024.

“You can’t say Korean companies lag their US rivals as higher yields and data-processing software capability are as important as stacking technology,” said Park Jae-geun, materials engineering professor at Hanyang University.

“Those who can achieve the highest yields with improved production efficiency will become the next NAND leaders.”

Write to Su-Bin Lee at isb@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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