SEOUL, South Korea — Korean memory makers see an “infinite” demand for NAND-based flash chips amid a sudden and dramatic change in the design landscape for cellphones, MP3 players, USB drives and other products.
Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. are separately developing and shipping a new class of NAND-based flash parts, claiming the devices can replace rival NOR-oriented technology in handsets and the lowly disk-drive in MP3 players.
Samsung also intends to boost the adoption for NAND flash by driving down product prices by about 40 percent a year, said Won-Seong Lee, senior vice president for SRAM and flash in the Memory Division at the Korean chip giant, in a recent interview.
“There are so many new applications for NAND,” said Reza Faramarzi, marketing manager for Hynix’ U.S. subsidiary (San Jose, Calif.). “There is an infinite demand for flash at the current price points.”
And the design landscape is changing for flash. Due to Apple Computer Inc.’s introduction of the iPod Nano, MP3 players are expected to emerge as the world’s second-largest application for NAND-type flash memory in 2005, according to iSuppli Corp.
Removable storage cards and USB drives long have been the dominant applications for NAND flash memory. Up through 2004, these two applications consumed 56 and 20 percent of total NAND output, respectively, according to iSuppli.
Apple recently moved to use NAND technology as the storage media of choice for its latest iPod line of music players, thereby displacing 1-inch hard drives from the likes of Seagate Technology and Hitachi Ltd.
Reports have also surfaced that Apple is readying a new and slick video version of the iPod, also based on flash memory. The sudden shift toward NAND has put enormous pressure on Samsung, one of the main suppliers of these chips for Apple’s iPod.
Sources believe that Samsung is scrambling to meet huge OEM demand for its devices at Apple. Samsung is supplying 16-gigabit NAND-based flash for Apple’s iPod, built around multilevel cell (MLC) technology.
This could signal the beginning of the end for traditional hard-disk storage in many applications, according to Samsung. “We want to replace the disk drive,” declared Samsung’s Lee.
For years, Samsung has been shipping NAND-based devices, built around a single-level cell (SLC) technology. Thanks to Apple and others, the company has an aggressive plan to expand its MLC lineup, which is less expensive than SLC, Lee said.
Samsung has three 300-mm fabs, each of which can produce 40,000 wafers a month. One fab is geared for DRAMs, while the other is aimed for flash production. The third plant is shared between DRAM and flash products.
Besides MP3 players, NAND is also gradually moving into the handset. Mainstream handsets use rival NOR-based flash and pseudo SRAMs to support both code and data storage.
In some cases, feature-rich handsets no longer use NOR. Instead, some cellphones are beginning to embrace NAND — an ominous sign for NOR. Embedded NAND for handsets “is still in the early adoption stages,” Faramarzi said.