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IMFT's 64Gb 25nm NAND flash memory chip

IMFT's 300mm L74 wafer
The most advanced semiconductor process yet

Intel currently has the best selling solid state drive on the market, while Micron has just started shipping the fastest SSD available using the 6Gbps SATA interface. The secret weapon of the two companies is IM Flash Technologies, their joint venture that produces cutting edge 34nm NAND flash memory. Not only does it ensure a steady supply in turbulent times, but it combines the technology and manufacturing prowess of two tech titans together to combat NAND market leaders Samsung and Toshiba.

“Through our continued investment in IMFT, we’re delivering leadership technology and manufacturing that enables the most cost-effective and reliable NAND memory,” said Tom Rampone, Vice President and General Manager of Intel's NAND Solutions Group.

DailyTech saw some 22nm shuttle test wafers at last year's Intel Developer Forum. The world's largest semiconductor company expects to introduce the new process at the end of next year for its Ivy Bridge CPUs, but needs to do a lot of development work first. One of the best ways to do that is to develop a less advanced intermediary step, and the partnership with IMFT allows them to do just that.

IMFT has developed a new 64Gb (8GB) NAND flash memory chip in a compact 167mm2, doubling the density of its 32Gb chips built on the 34nm process. The company will thus be able to produce twice as much capacity for roughly the same cost at its fab in Lehi, Utah, which is currently producing 34nm flash. Development of the 25nm process (codenamed L74) using 300mm wafers was spearheaded by Micron's Fab 4 in Boise, Idaho.

Frequent readers may recall that IMFT announced its 34nm process in November of 2008, but had problems ramping into mass production until the summer of last year. This was primarily due to difficulties in skipping the 43nm node and going directly to 34nm from 50nm. However, we spoke with Dave Baglee and Rod Morgan, IMFT's Co-executive Officers, who assured us that the ramp has been progressing very smoothly.

Yields are much better than the 34nm during the same timeframe, and write speeds will be similar or greater to today's NAND using the ONFI 2.2 standard. The number of maximum write-cycles will also be coming in closer to today's standard than the 3-bit MLC NAND that other companies are pinning their hopes on. Page and block sizes will double on the new chips, to 8KB and 256 pages respectively.

Production of the new multi-level cell chips will start in the second quarter, with mass production ramping up into the third quarter. The first batches will go into embedded products first, while new SSD models getting the new chips are undergoing verification and testing. Intel isn't promising any significant price reductions, but will instead tailor its pricing to meet market demand.

Intel, Micron, and its customers are expected to introduce new SSDs in the latter half of this year using the new technology. Although the company won’t officially confirm any details, Intel is expected to release larger capacities using a newer, faster NAND flash controller.

“To lead the entire semiconductor industry with the most advanced process technology is a phenomenal feat for Intel and Micron, and we look forward to further pushing the scaling limits,” said Brian Shirley, Vice President of Micron’s memory group. “This production technology will enable significant benefits to our customers through higher density media solutions.”

“This will help speed the adoption of solid-state drive solutions for computing,” added Rampone.

IMFT also sees a clear path to NAND flash development below 20nm, despite forecasts of scaling hitting a wall. IMFT is making extensive use of techniques like double mask patterning and immersion lithography, and may end up using EUV lithography in the future.

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The most amazing thing to me is...
By porkpie on 2/1/2010 2:08:30 PM , Rating: 4
...that they are STILL using 193nm light for this. (EUV looks like its about 2 years away).

Ten years ago, if you would have said you could use 193nm wavelength light to cut features 25nm (or even 45nm) in size, people would have laughed in your face.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By PandaBear on 2/1/2010 3:01:41 PM , Rating: 2
with wet lithography and overlay masks, they seems to have no problem doing so.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By porkpie on 2/1/2010 3:23:49 PM , Rating: 2
To get to the 22nm node, they've having to do a lot more than just immersion. Intel is using computational litho to generate masks that phase-shift the light to generate interference patterns much smaller than the wavelength of the original light. They're also double-patterning -- printing two 1D patterns at right angles to make a single 2D image.

Fascinating stuff...but I do look forward to the gains we'll see when EUV finally gets here.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By SAnderson on 2/1/2010 4:02:38 PM , Rating: 2
Don't expect EUV to help very much. Its going to be expensive to purchase and slow at that, looking at maybe 60wph to start with and probably 60mil per tool. There is still Immersion + Double patterning to go until EUV is needed.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By flipsu5 on 2/3/2010 12:46:49 AM , Rating: 2
I think they'll just add another round of double patterning. EUV can't even resolve 25 nm very well.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By porkpie on 2/3/2010 1:06:27 AM , Rating: 2
Don't judge EUV by the current round of proof of concept tests. Electron scattering effects are a real pain at present sure, but the theoretical resolution of EUV is below 10nm. We ain't getting there with 193nm light, not even with quadruple patterning.

RE: The most amazing thing to me is...
By flipsu5 on 2/3/2010 2:28:47 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe the wish is for something like EUV to succeed. The beta tool planned for 2010 is still 22 nm nominal resolution. IMFT already ordered more immersion tools, they have to be using them for more than one generation. Beyond 25 nm, it would have to be quadruple patterning.

By flipsu5 on 2/4/2010 3:57:59 AM , Rating: 2
Pardon, the NXE 3100 supposed to be shipped this year is 27 nm resolution. The next one is 22 nm but that will be at least two years out (still a little late).

non-volatile memory long term
By hellokeith on 2/1/2010 11:24:54 AM , Rating: 2
Are there any numbers on the long term stability of non-volatile memory, such as this used in SSD's ? Is magnetic tape still the king of age ?

RE: non-volatile memory long term
By Shig on 2/1/2010 1:38:27 PM , Rating: 1
Most SSD's are rated somewhere in the 1.5 million hour run time frame. They'll be obsolete before they wear out.

Magnetic tape is just the cheapest per Gbyte.

RE: non-volatile memory long term
By porkpie on 2/1/2010 2:06:29 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite. SSDs have a certain amount of leakage, no matter how much (or little) you use them. I haven't looked at figures lately, but when I did last, they were averaging a shelf life of about 40-50 years.

By geddarkstorm on 2/1/2010 4:46:06 PM , Rating: 2
Last I read, from multiple sources, it was 10 years till they totally lose charge. Hopefully newer tech has or will fix that though.

By PandaBear on 2/1/2010 3:00:29 PM , Rating: 2
That is if they didn't have any design problems or if their model of usage follows the reality.

RE: non-volatile memory long term
By wrekd on 2/2/2010 9:04:23 AM , Rating: 2
I'd also like to know what forensic changes there are with SSDs. Do you have to destroy SSDs that have held high value information or will a standard wiping program allow declassification?

RE: non-volatile memory long term
By Fritzr on 2/2/2010 5:28:32 PM , Rating: 2
Assuming your erase program verifies the contents of the actual memory chips, a simple overwrite is sufficient. The data is stored as a local electric charge. Unlike magnetic storage there is no memory effect where you can read the residual magnetization of the area where a bit was stored.

A flipped bit in a memory chip leaves no trace of what the previous state was. You just have to make sure to write a value to every bit that stored the data being erased.

By mindless1 on 2/2/2010 7:55:44 PM , Rating: 2
I am too lazy to go hunt down proof at the moment, but you are incorrect, there is a residual charge in memory that technically (though in most cases not practically) can be detected.

By excelsium on 2/1/2010 11:28:14 AM , Rating: 2
Taste the rainbowâ„¢

Pictures of these chips...
By FaceMaster on 2/2/2010 8:35:20 AM , Rating: 2
...Pretty, but is there any point? I'm sure that no one would notice if the same picture was used in every story.

Oh dear...
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 2/1/10, Rating: -1
RE: Oh dear...
By Jansen on 2/1/2010 12:21:14 PM , Rating: 4
"Gouges its corporate customers"? Not on SSDs...

While I too love the idea of cheaper SSDs, realistically NAND flash production is being gobbled up all over the world.

The spot market right now is determining pricing of NAND flash. Would you sell your products for less than they're worth?

When Intel starts to produce more than they can sell out, that's when you'll start seeing price drops. Or perhaps when Micron's drive starts hitting the market.

RE: Oh dear...
By SAnderson on 2/1/2010 4:10:31 PM , Rating: 2
Prices aren't going to drop too much. CPUs/GPUs/mobos are all still about the same prices over the past few years. Wafer costs are only going to go up with more expensive tools.

Nearly the same size die = nearly same available die out the door, but at just twice the density. Cost will be higher to produce as it requires more 193 Dry/Wet levels, especially in the beginning as it can demand a price premium. They are still going to put 8-10 die on an approx the same price, just twice the density.

RE: Oh dear...
By hyvonen on 2/2/2010 5:40:01 PM , Rating: 1
Don't you follow the economic principles?

RE: Oh dear...
By hyvonen on 2/2/2010 5:43:18 PM , Rating: 2
That downrate didn't take long...

Fact remains, companies are there to make money - not to give out freebies. No matter how much you whine about SSDs being too expensive, they are still selling out at the current prices.

Of course, you could beg the government to regulate prices for the common good, but that's socialism.

RE: Oh dear...
By Silver2k7 on 2/4/2010 12:27:29 PM , Rating: 2
yeah looks like it will take a little while, before they become suitable for mass storage..

A 4TB 3.5" SSD is possible to make today, but it would probably cost way too much. :(

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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