[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] Latest Updates on HBM from the Leading Three Global Memory Manufacturers

Amid the AI trend, the significance of high-value-added DRAM represented by HBM continues to grow.

HBM (High Bandwidth Memory) is a type of graphics DDR memory that boasts advantages such as high bandwidth, high capacity, low latency, and low power consumption compared to traditional DRAM chips. It accelerates AI data processing speed and is particularly suitable for high-performance computing scenarios like ChatGPT, making it highly valued by memory giants in recent years.

Memory is also representing one of Korea’s pillar industries, and to seize the AI opportunity and drive the development of the memory industry, Korea has recently designated HBM as a national strategic technology.

The country will provide tax incentives to companies like Samsung Electronics. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Korea can enjoy up to a 40% to 50% reduction, while large enterprises like Samsung Electronics can benefit from a reduction of up to 30% to 40%.

Overview of HBM Development Progress Among Top Manufacturers

The HBM market is currently dominated by three major storage giants: Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron. Since the introduction of the first silicon interposer HBM product in 2014, HBM technology has smoothly transitioned from HBM, HBM2, and HBM2E to HBM3 and HBM3e through iterative innovation.

According to research by TrendForce, the mainstream HBM in the market in 2023 is HBM2e. This includes specifications used in NVIDIA A100/A800, AMD MI200, and most CSPs’ self-developed acceleration chips. To meet the evolving demands of AI accelerator chips, various manufacturers are planning to launch new products like HBM3e in 2024, expecting HBM3 and HBM3e to become the market norm.

The progress of HBM3e, as outlined in the timeline below, shows that Micron provided its 8hi (24GB) samples to NVIDIA by the end of July, SK hynix in mid-August, and Samsung in early October.

As for the higher-spec HBM4, TrendForce expects its potential launch in 2026. With the push for higher computational performance, HBM4 is set to expand from the current 12-layer (12hi) to 16-layer (16hi) stacks, spurring demand for new hybrid bonding techniques. HBM4 12hi products are set for a 2026 launch, with 16hi models following in 2027.

Meeting Demand, Manufacturers Actively Expand HBM Production

As companies like NVIDIA and AMD continue to introduce high-performance GPU products, the three major manufacturers are actively planning the mass production of HBM with corresponding specifications.

Previously, media reports highlighted Samsung’s efforts to expand HBM production capacity by acquiring certain buildings and equipment within the Samsung Display’s Cheonan facility.

Samsung plans to establish a new packaging line at the Cheonan plant dedicated to large-scale HBM production. The company has already invested KRW 10.5 trillion in the acquisition of the mentioned assets and equipment, with an additional investment of KRW 700 billion to KRW 1 trillion.

Micron Technology’s Taichung Fab 4 in Taiwan was officially inaugurated in early November 2023. Micron stated that Taichung Fab 4 would integrate advanced probing and packaging testing functions to mass-produce HBM3e and other products, thereby meeting the increasing demand for various applications such as artificial intelligence, data centers, edge computing, and the cloud. The company plans to start shipping HBM3e in early 2024.

In its latest financial report, SK Hynix stated that in the DRAM sector in 2023, its main products DDR5 DRAM and HBM3 experienced revenue growth of over fourfold and fivefold, respectively, compared to the previous year.

At the same time, in response to the growing demand for high-performance DRAM, SK Hynix will smoothly carry out the mass production of HBM3e for AI applications and the research and development of HBM4.

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(Photo credit: SK Hynix)


[News] Samsung and Micron Rumored to Increase DRAM Prices by 15% to 20% in the First Quarter

Global memory giants continue to reduce production, coupled with the situation where market demand is increasing due to the rise in artificial intelligence and high-performance computing applications, as well as inventory replenishment from the smartphone market. This combination is driving a continuous increase in memory prices, especially the astonishing surge in NAND Flash.

According to a report from TechNews, there are once again rumors in the market today that the upward trend in DRAM prices is resurfacing. This includes plans from both Samsung and Micron to implement a price increase ranging from 15% to 20% in the first quarter of 2024.

Currently, the market anticipates tight DRAM supply in 2024 due to the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence and high-performance computing, along with a gradual recovery in the smartphone and PC markets. As the contract price negotiation for the first quarter is underway, industry sources reveal that memory manufacturers have begun adjusting DRAM prices since January, urging customers to plan for future usage demands.

There are reports in the market that Samsung recently announced that DRAM prices will increase by at least 15% starting in the first quarter of 2024. While there is no clear indication of the NAND Flash memory price hike at the moment, it is expected to continue to rise. The upward trend in DRAM prices is expected to persist until the end of 2024.

Apart from Samsung, Micron, with a modest 2-3% increase in DRAM prices in December 2023, lower than the 10% increase in 3D TLC NAND, is reportedly considering a DRAM price hike of around 15-20%.

Regarding the price trend of DRAM in the first quarter of 2024, TrendForce currently maintains a forecast of a seasonally increased average of 13-18%, with the highest increase observed in the mobile DRAM category, while server DRAM appears relatively conservative. According to TrendForce’s observation, due to the uncertain demand outlook for the entire year 2024, memory manufacturers believe that a continued reduction in production is necessary to maintain the supply-demand balance in the memory industry.

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(Image: Samsung )

Please note that this article cites information from TechNews


[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


[News] Japan Makes Significant Investment in Semiconductors, Potentially Surpass South Korea Within a Decade

As competition in the semiconductor industry intensifies, countries worldwide are implementing industrial policies to attract domestic and foreign investments. Japan, in particular, has introduced substantial subsidies to entice industry players to invest and establish facilities.

According to the report from South Korean “Dong-a Ilbo,” compared to other nations, South Korea’s semiconductor industry lacks sufficient subsidies, and there are concerns that Japan may surpass South Korea within the next decade.

Given the high cost of advanced semiconductor facility equipment and relatively higher local labor and other costs in Japan compared to other Asian countries, semiconductor companies are making substantial investments, often in the trillions of yen, to set up facilities in Japan.

In an effort to attract foreign companies to establish facilities in Japan, the Japanese government not only promotes the capabilities of numerous domestic semiconductor upstream suppliers to meet supply chain demands but also provides subsidies to alleviate the burden on industry players, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of products manufactured in Japan.

Taking memory giant Micron as an example, reportedly, Micron’s DRAM plant being constructed in Hiroshima, Japan, has received a 39% subsidy from the Japanese government for the construction cost. This subsidy has enhanced its cost competitiveness by 5% to 7%.

With substantial assistance from the Japanese government, there is a potential for Micron to narrow the market share gap with Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix in the future.

In recent years, TSMC has also chosen to establish a plant in Kumamoto, Japan, under the active solicitation of the Japanese government. In June of the previous year, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry announced that TSMC, along with Sony and Denso, jointly investing in Kumamoto Fab 1, could receive a maximum subsidy of JPY 476 billion (approximately USD 3.34 billion), equivalent to half of the construction cost.

The head of the Japanese Semiconductor Strategic Promotion Council, Akira Amari, previously mentioned that the Japanese government would provide one-third of the construction cost as a subsidy for TSMC’s Kumamoto Fab 2.

However, in November of this year, the Japanese Cabinet approved a semiconductor subsidy plan of nearly JPY 2 trillion, deciding to grant a subsidy of JPY 900 billion to TSMC’s Kumamoto Fab 2, exceeding one-third of the construction cost.

As per TrendForce’s report, Japan is also actively supporting local company Rapidus with a goal of reaching the most advanced 2 nm process. They aim to create a semiconductor cluster in Hokkaido and are offering subsidies to foreign companies, including Japan Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing (JASM) and PSMC’s Sendai plant (JSMC).

This dual-pronged approach by the Japanese government aims to attract both domestic and foreign semiconductor industry investments in Japan.

While the South Korean parliament expanded tax incentives for semiconductor facility investment in the chip law passed in March of this year, it did not provide direct cash subsidies, raising concerns among industry professionals about the potential overtaking of the South Korean semiconductor industry by Japan.

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(Photo credit: TSMC)

Please note that this article cites information from Dong-a Ilbo, Nikkei and The Japan Times

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