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Memory process roadmap pushes thru amid 3D tech

26 Aug 2014

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Other NAND flash manufacturers are hoping to begin production of 3D NAND parts in 2014, but 2015 appears more likely. Manufacturing 3D NAND is incredibly complex and there still are issues being worked out, so as long as life remains in traditional planar-transistor NAND devices, 3D NAND technology will not be rushed into the marketplace. The timing of a full-scale transition from 2D to 3D NAND memory depends a great deal on the point at which 3D becomes a cost-effective option to 2D, and that situation is still a ways off. Even when the cost crossover point is reached, 2D and 3D NAND will likely coexist for several years.

For about the past 10 years, DRAM devices have been a generation or more behind NAND flash memories when it comes to process technology, if the minimum geometry of each process is used for comparison. Leading DRAM makers are currently manufacturing at volume production using 20nm-class feature sizes (between 20-29nm).

DRAM and NAND processes are less similar than one might think, and each has its own figures of merit and scaling limitations. Nevertheless, NAND has generally been considered the more advanced of the two memory technologies ever since Samsung announced in 2003 that NAND had taken over for DRAM as the driver of the company's memory-related process advancements.

Like NAND flash, DRAM technology is also migrating toward integrating circuitry in the vertical direction, but the 3D technology pertaining to DRAMs is different than that of NAND flash. In general, 3D technology for DRAMs involves the creation of stacks of DRAM chips interconnected using thru-silicon vias (TSVs). One example of a 3D DRAM solution is the Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC), developed by the consortium of the same name. The Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium was founded by Micron and Samsung and includes other developer members Altera, ARM, IBM, Open-Silicon, SK Hynix and Xilinx.

DRAM consumption for mobile and server applications has been on the rise in recent years, prompting suppliers to develop creative techniques to extend the life of this memory technology. Between 2010 and 2014, three generations of Intel server processors have been introduced with the 22nm Haswell (the most current offering) featuring up to 15 cores and integrated high-speed memory controllers that can support up to 6TB of DRAM. Intel's Haswell has the capability to address three times as much memory compared to its 32nm Westmere processor in 2012 and five times as much memory compared to its 45nm Nehalem processor in 2010, which is one of the big reasons why DRAM suppliers are busy working to boost chip density and performance (speed) of their new DRAM devices.

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