[News] Flash Memory May Enter the Era of 280 Layers, and There’s More to Come

Another breakthrough has emerged in flash memory layer technology! A recent report cited by tom’s Hardware has suggested that at the upcoming International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in February of this year, Samsung Electronics will unveil the next-generation V9 QLC NAND solution, pushing flash memory layer technology to 280 layers.

The Battle of Layers is Far from Over

Reportedly, Samsung’s V9 QLC boasts a storage density of 28.5Gb per square millimeter, achieving a maximum transfer rate of 3.2 Gbps. This surpasses the current leading QLC products (2.4 Gbps) and is poised to meet the requirements of future PCIe 6.0 solutions.

Additionally, the report further highlights that Samsung’s V9 QLC is considered the highest-density flash memory solution to date.

Before Samsung, major storage giants such as Micron and SK Hynix had already surpassed the 200-layer milestone. Micron reached 232 layers with a storage density of 19.5Gb per square millimeter, while SK Hynix achieved 238 layers with a storage density of 14.4Gb per square millimeter.

Still, 280 layers are not the end of the storage giants’ layer count competition; there will be breakthroughs with even higher layer counts in the future.

In August 2023, SK Hynix unveiled the world’s highest-layer 321-layer NAND flash memory samples, claimed to have become the industry’s first company developing NAND flash memory with over 300 layers, with plans for mass production by 2025.

Reportedly, SK Hynix’s 321-layer 1Tb TLC NAND achieves a 59% efficiency improvement compared to the previous generation 238-layer 512Gb. This is due to the ability to stack more units of data storage to higher levels, achieving greater storage capacity on the same chip, thereby increasing the output of chips per wafer unit.

On the other hand, Micron plans to introduce higher-layer products beyond the 232-layer milestone. Samsung, with ambitious plans, aims to stack V-NAND to over 1000 layers by 2030.

Kioxia and Western Digital, after showcasing their 218-layer technology in 2023 following the 162-layer milestone, also intend to develop 3D NAND products with over 300 layers in the future.

Amid Memory Market Rebound, What’s the Trend in NAND Flash Prices?

Amid economic headwinds and subdued demand in the consumer electronics market, the memory industry experienced a prolonged period of adjustment. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter of 2023 that the memory market began to rebound, leading to improved performances for related storage giants.

According to research conducted by TrendForce, a global market research firm, NAND Flash contract prices declined for four consecutive quarters starting from the third quarter of 2022, until they began to rise in the third quarter of 2023.

With a cautious outlook for market demand in 2024, the trend in NAND Flash prices will depend on the capacity utilization rates of suppliers.

TrendForce has projected a hike of 18-23% for NAND Flash contract prices, with a more moderated QoQ price increase of 3-8% for 2Q24. As the third quarter enters the traditional peak season, the quarterly price increase could potentially expand synchronously to 8-13%.

In 4Q24, the general price rally is anticipated to continue if suppliers maintain an effective strategy for controlling output. For NAND Flash products, their contract prices are forecasted to increase by 0-5% QoQ for 4Q24.

(Photo credit: Samsung)

Please note that this article cites information from tom’s Hardware and DRAMeXchange.


[News] Multiple Fabs in Japan to Commence Production Post-2024 Boosting Industry

With the highly anticipated opening of TSMC’s Kumamoto fab on February 24th, 2024, multiple Japanese or global semiconductor manufacturers are set to begin large-scale production in newly established plants in Japan.

According to sources cited by TechNews, this development will stimulate the growth and advancement of Japan’s domestic semiconductor supply chain, enhancing Japan’s semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, transitioning from Renesas Electronics’ 40-nanometer process to JASM’s 12-nanometer process.

TSMC Kumamoto Fab Set to Open on February 24

In Kikuyo Town, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing (JASM) company, jointly invested by TSMC, SONY, and Japan’s DENSO, is currently constructing a 12-inch fab.

▲ TSMC’s Layout of Global Production Capacity Edited by TrendForce, January, 2024

The facility will employ 12/16-nanometer and 22/28-nanometer process, focusing on the production of chips for automotive electronic applications. The fab is scheduled to open on February 24, with mass production expected to commence in the fourth quarter of 2024.

This shift is regarded as the first step in Japan’s semiconductor revitalization policy. In support of this initiative, the Japanese government has provided a financial subsidy of JPY 476 billion (approximately USD 3.2 billion) to the JASM fab, covering nearly one-third of the total expenditure, which amounts to USD 8.6 billion.

Kioxia and Western Digital Jointly Constructing 12-Inch Plant

NAND Flash memory giants Kioxia and Western Digital are jointly investing in the construction of a 12-inch plant in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture. The facility is set to begin preparing for mass production of 3D NAND Flash memory products by March 2024.

Industry sources note that the plant’s construction will cost JPY 280 billion (approximately USD 1.8 billion ), with the Japanese government providing up to 92.9 billion yen (approximately USD 600 million) in subsidies.

Another Kioxia and Western Digital joint venture plant located in Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, is slated to open in the second half of 2024. Originally scheduled for completion in 2023, the project faced delays due to unfavorable market conditions.

Renesas Electronics Expands Power Semiconductor Capacity

Renesas Electronics is set to launch a new power semiconductor production line in 2024. However, since the company’s Kofu factory in Yamanashi Prefecture closed in October 2014, Renesas is committing JPY 90 billion to install a 12-inch wafer production line at its existing facility to meet the growing demand for power semiconductors, especially in electric vehicles (EVs).

The new production line will enable Renesas Electronics to enhance its capacity for power semiconductors such as IGBT and MOSFET, with plans to achieve mass production by 2024. Renesas Electronics’ expansion plan is expected to receive subsidy support from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

Toshiba and ROHM Semiconductor Collaborate to Integrate Production Lines for Power Semiconductors

Toshiba and ROHM Semiconductor have reached an agreement to collaborate. Under the agreement, Toshiba’s power semiconductor factory will begin integrating production with ROHM’s newly developed Silicon Carbide (SiC) power semiconductor plant in Kunitomi City, Miyazaki Prefecture. This collaboration is expected to receive government subsidies equivalent to one-third of the investment in the project.

Japan’s New Fab Projects Beyond 2025

Beyond 2025, Japan is set to witness the emergence of several new plants, including Micron Technology’s new 1-gamma (1γ) DRAM production facility in Hiroshima Prefecture.

JSMC, a foundry subsidiary of Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (PSMC), is collaborating with Japan’s financial group SBI to complete construction by 2027 and begin chip production thereafter.

Additionally, Japanese semiconductor startup Rapidus plans to commence production of 2-nanometer chips in Hokkaido by 2027.

Furthermore, TSMC is currently evaluating plans for its second plant in Japan, expected to be located in Kikuyo Town, Kumamoto Prefecture. Reports suggest that TSMC is set to officially announce the location of the second wafer plant on February 6th.

Earlier discussions by TSMC Chairman Mark Liu regarding the second plant in Japan indicated ongoing evaluations and discussions with the Japanese government. Once the decision to build the second plant is finalized, it is anticipated to manufacture products utilizing 7-nanometer to 16-nanometer process technologies.

Japan’s resurgence in the semiconductor arena is palpable, with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry fostering multi-faceted collaborations with the private sector. With a favorable exchange rate policy aiding factory construction and investments, the future looks bright for exports.

However, the looming shortage of semiconductor talent in Japan is a concern. In response, there are generous subsidy programs for talent development. Japan is strategically positioning itself to reclaim its former glory in the world of semiconductors.

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(Photo credit: TSMC)

Please note that this article cites information from TechNews.


[News] Kioxia and Western Digital Resume Merger Negotiations? Rumors of Bain Negotiating with SK Hynix Surface

NAND flash memory giants Kioxia and Western Digital (WD) were reported to be in negotiations with intentions to merge. However, the merger talks between Kioxia and WD were halted in October last year due to opposition from SK Hynix, the South Korean memory giant indirectly invested in Kioxia.

As per a report from Japanese media 47news, Kioxia has been making adjustments behind the scenes and is interested in restarting merger negotiations with WD. Kioxia’s major shareholder, Bain Capital, is reportedly in negotiations with SK Hynix.

It is reported that Kioxia is also exploring the possibility of cooperation with SK Hynix, but this may pose risks of violating anti-monopoly laws. If Kioxia and WD ultimately fail to merge, going public independently is also an option for Kioxia.

According to the report citing sources, SK Hynix is concerned that a merger between Kioxia and WD would weaken its influence over Kioxia. Therefore, SK Hynix is interested in participating in the integration to safeguard its influence.

On the other hand, WD has announced on October 30 last year that its board had approved a spin-off plan to separate its NAND flash memory division and establish a new company for independent listing, with operations expected to commence in the second half of 2024.

As per TrendForce’s  data for 3Q23, Samsung maintained its position as the top global NAND flash memory manufacturer, commanding a significant market share of 31.4%. Following closely, SK Group secured the second position with a 20.2% market share. Western Digital occupied the third position with a market share of 16.9%, while Japan’s Kioxia held a 14.5% market share.

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(Photo credit: Kioxia)

Please note that this article cites information from 47news and Kioxia.


[News] Market Anticipates a 50% Price Surge for NAND Flash in Short-Term

After a rebound from the decline in NAND prices, the current quotations still show a gap from reaching the breakeven point for suppliers such as Samsung, Kioxia, SK Hynix, and Micron.

Major domestic players in the NAND Flash industry indicate that NAND Flash suppliers, driven by the goal of profitability, will continue to aggressively raise prices. It is anticipated that prices will need to increase by over 40% once again for major manufacturers to break even. To achieve profitability, future price hikes are expected to be at least 50% or even higher, according to Economic Daily News.

Looking at the global NAND Flash market share in 3Q23, according to a report from TrendForce, Samsung holds the leading position with a market share of 31.4%. The second position is held by the SK group, with a market share of 20.2%, followed by the U.S.-based Western Digital at third place with a market share of 16.9%. The Japanese company, Kioxia ranks fourth with a market share of approximately 14.5%.

The industry indicates that due to the lower profitability of NAND Flash compared to DRAM, international giants are actively reducing NAND Flash production.

Taking Samsung as an example, since September of this year, the reduction in NAND chip production has expanded to 50% of total capacity, focusing on products with stacked layers up to 128 layers. The goal is to accelerate destocking and stabilize prices, with plans to gradually increase prices in 2024.

TrendForce has indicated that following Samsung’s expansion of the production reduction to 50%, other suppliers are also maintaining a restrained wafer allocation strategy. After more than half a year of production reduction in some processes and capacities, there is a structural supply shortage, providing an advantage for chip manufacturers in price control. Observing the market in the fourth quarter, there are almost no low-priced sources available for purchase. However, buyers still tend to maintain high inventory levels and continue purchasing.

Industry sources revealed that the NAND chip prices had plummeted too deeply before. Although the quarterly increase in contract prices seems substantial, there is still a distance for chip manufacturers to achieve a turnaround. It is expected that prices need to increase by another 40% to allow suppliers to cross the breakeven point. Therefore, prices are expected to be quite strong in the coming quarters.

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(Photo credit: Samsung)

Please note that this article cites information from Economic Daily News


[Insights] Signals from the Latest Financial Reports of Top 5 Global Storage Giants

As the memory market faces oversupply and falling prices due to declining demand in 2023, there’s a glimmer of hope when looking into their Q4 guidance. Memory prices are gradually rising, indicating a potential escape from the market’s low point. The most recent financial reports from the world’s top five companies substantiate this positive outlook.

  1. Mixed Results in the Financial Reports of Top 5 Giants

From the recent financial reports of Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron, Kioxia, and Western Digital reveal a slowdown in the rate of revenue loss despite some reporting losses. Some companies express optimism, noting a gradual recovery in certain downstream demand.

Samsung: Anticipating Q4 Demand Recovery

Samsung Electronics’ Q3 financial report shows a revenue of 6.74 trillion Korean won, a YoY decrease, but with a net profit exceeding expectations at 5.5 trillion won.

During their earnings call on October 31, Samsung highlighted the uncertainty in the recovery of the storage chip market. However, they remain optimistic about increased demand in Q4, driven by year-end promotions, new product releases from major clients, and growing demand for generative AI.

SK Hynix: Positive Signs in Market Conditions

SK Hynix’s report for the Q3 2023 fiscal year indicates improving market conditions, particularly due to increased demand for high-performance memory, especially in AI-related products. DRAM and NAND flash memory sales have grown, with a significant 20%  QoQ increase in DRAM shipments. Rise of average prices also impacts the results. In the second half of the year, customers with reduced inventory are progressively increasing their procurement demands, leading to stable developments in product prices.

The company predicts continued improvement in the DRAM market and positive trends in NAND.

Micron: Storage Market Expected to Recover Next Year

Micron’s performance for the Q4 2023 fiscal year shows revenue of $4.01 billion, a 40% year-on-year decrease but better than market expectations. The DRAM business accounts for 69% of revenue, with $2.8 billion in revenue, an increase in bit shipments but a decrease in average selling price. NAND Flash revenue is $1.2 billion, with an increase in bit shipments but a decrease in ASP.

Micron expects Q1 revenue for the 2024 fiscal year to reach $4.2~4.6 billion, anticipating a recovery in the storage market in 2024 and further improvement in 2025.

Kioxia: Rebound in NAND Prices

Kioxia released its financial report for July to September 2023, with revenue of 241.4 billion yen, a 3.9% decrease QoQ and a 38.3% YoY decrease. Due to a decline in demand for smartphone and PC memory chips, the operating loss was 100.8 billion yen in the Q2. However, benefiting from the improvement in storage supply-demand balance, optimized storage portfolio, and the performance of the yen exchange rate, the operating loss has improved.

Although NAND shipments have decreased, the situation has improved due to the rebound in NAND prices. NAND bit shipments decreased by approximately 13%, and NAND ASP increased by about 8%. Looking ahead to 2024, Kioxia expects NAND prices to continue to rise with the original equipment company’s production reduction strategy and customer inventory normalization. Confidence in the NAND market’s recovery is expected, especially in data centers and enterprise SSD demand, after the first half of 2024.

Western Digital: Cloud Market Continues to Grow

Western Digital announced Q1 revenue for the 2024 fiscal year, totaling $2.75 billion, a 3% increase QoQ and a 26% YoY decrease. In the end market, the decline in flash memory prices was offset by the growth in flash memory shipments, driving some business growth on a QoQ basis.

CEO David Goeckeler stated that Q1 performance exceeded expectations, with profit margins for flash memory and HDD business continuously improving. He pointed out that the consumer and end-user markets performed well, and the cloud market is expected to continue growing. With market improvement, an improved cost structure enables the company to increase profitability.

  1. Changing Supply and Demand Dynamics: Some Applications Boosting

Storage companies are adapting to the market by reducing capital expenditures and adjusting inventory, leading to a more normalized market inventory. Simultaneously, increased demand in AI servers, high-performance computing, and automotive intelligence instills confidence in the market.

In the second half of the year, there are clear signs of improvement in the supply and demand dynamics of storage chips. Demand for smartphones, laptops, and new product releases is driving positive trends. Some companies are witnessing strengthened customer demand, even accepting price increases.

In the server sector, AI servers are boosting demand for high-bandwidth memory (HBM), and DDR5 adoption is accelerating. In the automotive storage sector, electric vehicles, intelligence, and networking are propelling in-car storage demand, indicating promising developments in the automotive storage market. Other applications such as big data, cloud computing, and wearable devices related to high-speed storage, reliability, and data security also present growth potential, benefiting storage companies.

  1. Comprehensive Rise in Storage Chips: Is a Turning Point Near?

According to TrendForce, the global NAND Flash market has experienced a comprehensive price increase in the Q4, driven by suppliers’ active production reduction strategies in 2023. Data from TrendForce indicates a general rise in Q4 NAND Flash contract prices, with an increase of about 8-13%.

TrendForce estimates a negative annual growth rate of -2.8% for supply in 2023, the first in several years. This has pushed the overall sufficiency ratio to -3.7%, forming the basis for stabilizing NAND Flash prices in the second half. However, the sustainability of the current upward trend remains unclear due to the lack of substantial terminal demand.

If demand recovers as expected in the second half of 2024, especially with the momentum of AI-related orders for server SSDs and a cautious approach by suppliers in resuming capacity utilization, the overall sufficiency ratio is expected to be controlled at -9.4%, accelerating the balance between supply and demand, and NAND Flash prices may show an upward trend throughout the year.

For DRAM, TrendForce predicts a seasonal increase of about 3-8% in DRAM contract prices in the Q4. The continuation of this upward trend depends on whether suppliers maintain their production reduction strategy and the actual recovery of demand, particularly in the general server.

During the MTS 2024 Storage Industry Trends Seminar, TrendForce highlighted three concerns for the memory market in 2024:

(1) Despite the reduction in inventory levels, it is essential to observe whether this reduction can be sustained and effectively transferred to buyers.

(2) Anticipating a rise in production capacity, an early recovery in operational rates due to market improvements may lead to another imbalance in supply and demand.

(3) Whether the demand from various end-users will align with the expected recovery or not, particularly the sustainability of orders related to AI.
(Image: Samsung)

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