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Semiconductor rivalry

Memory leader Samsung aims to strengthen system chips, foundry

It plans to spend $151 billion by 2030 to overtake foundry archrival TSMC

By Jun 08, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Samsung's latest memory chipset
Samsung's latest memory chipset

Samsung Electronics Co. is forecast to keep its memory leadership amid growing competition, although the South Korean tech giant has some catching up to do in the system chip and foundry segments.

According to market researcher Omdia, Samsung ranked first in the global DRAM market with a 41.7% share in the first quarter, followed by SK Hynix Inc. (30%) and Micron Technology Inc. (23%).

Analysts said Samsung is on the right path toward maintaining its DRAM leadership this year, where the company has been the top player since 1992.

In the (NAND) flash memory sector, Samsung is also the global leader, controlling slightly more than a third of the market. The company has been the dominant player in the flash memory market since 2002.

Samsung maintains a strong presence in the solid-state drive (SSD) segment in particular.

Samsung, which first commercialized SSDs using NAND flash memory, currently commands 33.3% of the SSD market, nearly double the 16.7% share of its immediate runner-up Intel Corp.

The Korean company said it is strengthening its SSD lineup for data centers, which are among the key customers for large-capacity storage devices.

Earlier this month, Samsung unveiled a new enterprise SSD with advanced data management technology.

Named PM1731a, the new SSD for corporate clients features a zoned namespace (ZNS) solution that maximizes available user capacity and bolsters the lifespan of a server system.

According to market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), the global corporate SSD market is forecast to rise at an average annual rate of 21.5% to 28 trillion won ($25 billion) in 2024 from 2020.

Samsung’s power management integrated circuits for DDR5 DRAM modules
Samsung’s power management integrated circuits for DDR5 DRAM modules

V-NAND TO BOLSTER SAMSUNG’S FLASH SEGMENT

Samsung is also sharpening its technology in vertical or V-NAND flash memory chips to consolidate its flash leadership.

In a contributing article to an in-house newsletter on Tuesday, Jaihyuk Song, executive vice president and head of Samsung’s flash memory product and technology division, said the company aims to become the frontrunner in further reducing the size of cells in NAND memory with its three-dimensional scaling technology.

“For many years, NAND flash memory solutions designed to store data featured a two-dimensional structure, where chips were scaled and laid onto flat surfaces. But these 2D structures had significant limitations in terms of the amount of data that could be stored,” he said.

“Samsung pioneered its V-NAND flash memory, a solution that connects its cell layers through pierced holes in vertically-stacked 3D space. Samsung is the first company in the world to develop and commercialize such a memory solution.”

Samsung said its 176-layer seventh-generation V-NAND, to be unveiled in the second half of this year, will be 35% smaller in cell volume thanks to its 3D-scaling technology.

“We will be the first to overcome the height limit … When Samsung’s V-NAND solutions (will) have evolved to feature over 1,000 layers, the company will continue to ensure that its memory solutions offer the industry’s highest reliability,” he said.

Analysts expect Samsung to post more than 10.4 trillion won ($9.3 billion) in operating profit in the second quarter, boosted by pent-up demand for memory chips from electronics makers.

Samsung's new enterprise solid-state drive, ZNS SSD
Samsung's new enterprise solid-state drive, ZNS SSD

CHALLENGE IN NON-MEMORY SECTOR

However, Samsung faces challenges in the non-memory sector, which accounts for the lion’s share of the overall semiconductor market.

In the global semiconductor industry, memory chips account for about 30% while the remaining 70% are taken up by non-memory chips such as system-on-chips, a market where Korean companies are distant followers.

Samsung has just a single-digit market share in the non-memory market.

In the foundry market, where chipmakers make chips for fabless companies and chip designing firms, Samsung is the world’s No. 2 player with a 17% market share. That’s well below market leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.'s (TSMC) 54%.

Samsung said in mid-May it will invest 171 trillion won ($151 billion) by 2030 to take over the global foundry leadership from its archrival TSMC.

The new amount is 28.5% above the company’s 133 trillion won investment target set by group heir Jay Y. Lee in 2019. 

Write to Shin-Young Park at nyusos@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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