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Japan-Korea Trade Spat and Toshiba Blackout Hike DRAM Prices by 20 Percent

Prices of DRAM shot up by 20 percent as Japan put in place export curbs that restrict high-technology exports to South Korea, and as Toshiba recovers from a power blackout that temporarily halted production. This could impact prices of end-user products such as PC memory modules, or consumer electronics, such as smartphones, in the coming weeks, as inventories either dry up, or are marked-up at various stages of the supply-chain. The memory industry is inter-dependent between fabrication and packaging units spread across South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

Memory and flash industry observer DRAMeXchange reported that spot-pricing of 8-gigabit DDR4 DRAM chips, which is used as a benchmark for DRAM pricing as a whole, closed at USD $3.74 at the end of trading on Friday (19/07). It's up 14.6 percent week-over-week, and 23 percent up pricing as on 5th July. An industry observer who spoke with KBS World notes that the recent hikes are not directly infuenced by the trade-spat between Japan and Korea, but rather a power blackout experienced at a Toshiba DRAM manufacturing facility last month. The observer noted that if the trade-spat affects production at Samsung Electronics or SK Hynix, DRAM prices could "skyrocket."

SK Hynix Starts Mass-Producing World's First 128-Layer 4D NAND, Working on 176-Layer NAND

SK hynix Inc. announced today that it has developed and started mass-producing the world's first 128-Layer 1 Tb (Terabit) TLC (Triple-Level Cell) 4D NAND Flash, only eight months after the Company announced the 96-Layer 4D NAND Flash last year.

The 128-Layer 1 Tb NAND chip offers the industry's highest vertical stacking with more than 360 billion NAND cells, each of which stores 3 bits, per one chip. To achieve this, SK hynix applied innovative technologies, such as "ultra-homogeneous vertical etching technology," "high-reliability multi-layer thin-film cell formation technology," and ultra-fast low-power circuit design, to its own 4D NAND technology.

The new product provides the industry's highest density of 1 Tb for TLC NAND Flash. A number of companies including SK hynix have developed 1 Tb QLC (Quad-Level Cell) NAND products, but SK hynix is the first to commercialize the 1 Tb TLC NAND Flash. TLC accounts for more than 85% of the NAND Flash market with excellent performance and reliability.

SK hynix Launches World-Class Low-Power NVMe Enterprise SSD

SK hynix Inc. announced today that it launched a new low-power Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe) Enterprise SSD (eSSD) with the 72-layer TLC 3D NAND flash that offers best-in-class performance for power as well as Quality of Service. The product features an in-house NVMe controller on top of the 72-layer 3D NAND technology currently in mass production. With the launch, SK hynix has established itself as a memory producer that designs, develops, and mass-produces all key components, from NAND and DRAM to controllers, in-house, for not only Client but also Enterprise applications.

Meanwhile, power consumption of datacenters is an increasingly important concern in terms of energy and environmental preservation, as their footprint grows amid rising enterprise demand for cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML). As datacenters are expected to account for one-fifth of the world's energy consumption in 2025, low-power components that enable datacenter energy efficiency are expected to only grow in importance.

NAND Manufacturers Accelerate Deployment of 120/128 Layer 3D NAND Fabrication

A report from DigiTimes pits NAND manufacturers as accelerating their 120/128 layer 3D NAND technologies, aiming for volume production as early as 2020. Even as SK Hynix has begun sampling its 96-layer 4D NAND flash in March, Toshiba and Western Digital already had plans to introduce 128-layer technology, built on a TLC (Triple Level Cell) process technology so as to increase density while avoiding yield issues present with current QLC (Quad Level Cell) implementations.

The decision to accelerate deployment of the next generation of NAND comes from the fact that the market still faces an oversupply of NAND flash, mostly driven by the mature process of 64-layer NAND technology. With new technologies, higher ASPs and lower production scales are sustainable, which should enable supply to reduce enough so as to increase pricing of NAND-based technologies - and allow manufacturers to somewhat reset asking prices for new NAND chips.

SK Hynix Begins Sampling 96-layer 4D QLC NAND Flash Memory

SK Hynix Inc., announced today that it has delivered samples of new 1Tb (Terabit) QLC (Quadruple Level Cell) product to major SSD (Solid State Drive) Controller companies. The Company applied its own QLC technology to its world's first 96-Layer "CTF (Charge Trap Flash) based 4D (Four-Dimensional) NAND Flash (or 4D NAND)." SK Hynix intends to expand its NAND portfolio to 96-layer-based 1Tb QLC products in time for the QLC market opening and strengthen its responsiveness to the next-generation high-density memory market.

QLC stores four bits of data in one NAND cell, allowing higher density compared to TLC (Triple Level Cell) that stores three bits per cell. Using QLC, it is possible to develop high-density products with cost competitiveness. SK Hynix is able to secure the industry's top-level cost competitiveness through this product, which has reduced the area to less than 90% of the existing 3D-based QLC products.

SK Hynix Completes Expanded Fab (C2F) in Wuxi, China

SK Hynix Inc. today announced that it held a ceremony celebrating the completion of an expanded fabrication plant (or 'C2F') in Wuxi, China, on April 18th. C2F is an expansion of the existing DRAM production line, C2, in Wuxi. The Company decided to expand its production line in 2016 in order to solve the shortage of production space due to technology migration. About 500 people attended the ceremony, including Li Xiaomin, Party Secretary of Wuxi, Guo Yuanqiang, Vice Governor of Jiangsu, Choi Youngsam, Consul-General in Shanghai, Lee Seok-hee, Chief Executive Officer of SK Hynix, and representatives of clients and business partners.

SK Hynix signed a contract with Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, China, in 2004 to establish a local factory and completed the production line (C2) in 2006 to start producing DRAM. C2 is the Company's first 300mm FAB and has played a major role in SK Hynix's growth to date. However, with technology scaling, the number of processes has increased and the equipment has become larger, which led to the shortage of the cleanroom space. SK Hynix, therefore, has invested a total of 950 billion KRW from June 2017 to April 2019 to secure additional production space.

SK Hynix Inc. Reports First Quarter 2019 Results

SK Hynix Inc. today announced financial results for its first quarter 2019 ended on March 31, 2019. The consolidated first quarter revenue was 6.77 trillion won while the operating profit amounted to 1.37 trillion won and the net income 1.1 trillion won. Operating margin for the quarter was 20% and net margin was 16%.

Because of a faster-than-expected price decline and lower shipments due to slowing memory demand, the revenue and the operating profit in the first quarter fell by 32% and 69%, respectively, quarter-over-quarter (QoQ). Due to seasonal slowdown and conservative server purchases, DRAM bit shipments decreased by 8% QoQ. The average selling price dropped by 27%. For NAND Flash, the average selling price decreased by 32% due to high inventory levels and intensifying competition among suppliers. The bit shipments declined by 6% QoQ.

TrendForce: Recent DRAM Pricing Decline Biggest Since 2011, Nearly 30% Decrease

The latest analysis of the PC DRAM market from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, finds that most contracts are now monthly deals rather than quarterly deals, with February even seeing a most unusual, large down-correction in prices. The current quarterly decline dropped from the originally projected 25% to nearly 30%, resulting in the sharpest decline in a single season since 2011.

DRAMeXchange points out that, according to the most recent market observations, inventory levels have kept climbing ever since overall contract prices dropped in the fourth quarter of last year, and most DRAM suppliers are currently holding around a whopping six weeks' worth of inventory (wafer banks included). Meanwhile, Intel's low-end CPU supply shortage is expected to last until the end of 3Q19, and PC-OEMs are unable to carry out the consumption of DRAM chips under demand suppression. The overall market has thus entered freefall, meaning that large reductions in prices aren't going to be effective in driving sales. The excessively high inventory will continue to cause down-corrections in prices this year if demand doesn't make a strong comeback.

DigiTimes: Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix to See DRAM, Flash Revenue Fall in 1Q19

DigiTimes is reporting that three of the major DRAM and Flash players in the industry - Micron, Samsung and SK Hynix - are expected to drop an astonishing 26% sequentially on 1Q19 and 29% YoY for 1Q19. The combined revenue drop for the three DRAM and Flash semiconductor giants comes in the face of seasonality and decreasing prices, and the decline continues an already negative 4Q18, which saw a decrease of 18% sequentially and 26% from a year earlier.

With memory pricing facing a continuous decline in recent times, clients are taking a pondered approach towards ordering from manufacturers - an expectation of future savings being the main factor for this. Demand, however, is expected to pick up in 2H19, due to increased demand from end customers, following price-cuts from manufacturers and improved specifications on end-products.

GlobalFoundries Looking for Buyers, Samsung and SK Hynix Seem Interested

GlobalFoundries is looking to be sold lock-stock-and-barrel by its investors, after heavily downsizing and parting with some of its Singapore-based assets recently. Once promising to lead the market with 7 nm and 5 nm advancements, the company crashed out of the sub-10 nm race, making AMD, its biggest customer, look for 7 nm supplies from TSMC. GlobalFoundries is the world's third largest semiconductor foundry service provider, with an 8.4 percent market share, behind TSMC and Samsung. Intel doesn't offer manufacturing services, as its fabs are fully dedicated to manufacturing its own products.

GlobalFoundries's main investor is Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Technology, which holds a 90 percent stake in the company. Korean semiconductor companies Samsung and SK Hynix are reportedly in the foray to buy out GlobalFoundries, as it would give them a turnkey presence in the US, with its Upstate New York facilities. The company is unlikely to entertain bids from Chinese companies, as CFIUS would likely block the sale. "Global Foundries is unlikely to be bought by a Chinese company such as SMIC in that the U.S. government is keeping China in check in various industries," said an industry insider, adding, "The most potential candidates include South Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, and Samsung Electronics can increase its share in the market to 23 percent at once if it takes over Global Foundries."

SK Hynix Fellow Says PC5 DDR5 by 2020, DDR6 Development Underway

The PC5 DDR5 main memory standard could enter the market by 2020, according to SK Hynix research fellow Kim Dong-Kyun. The first such memory standard will be DDR5-5200, which offers nearly double the bandwidth of DDR4-2666. "We are discussing several concepts of the post DDR5," he said. "One concept is to maintain the current trend of speeding up the data transmission, and another is to combine the DRAM technology with system-on-chip process technologies, such as CPU," he added, without offering any additional information. SK Hynix had in 2018 developed a working prototype of a 16-gigabit (2 GB) DDR5 DRAM chip ticking at 5200 MT/s, at 1.1 Volts. A 64-bit wide memory module made with these chips could offer bandwidth of 41.6 GB/s.

SK Hynix is developing its own innovations that could make its DDR5 chips more advanced than the competition without going off-standard. "We have developed a multi-phase synchronization technology that enables keeping the voltage during a high-speed operation in a chip at a low level by placing multiple phases within the IP circuit, so the power used on each phase is low but the speed is high when combined," Kim said. He also mentioned that development of the DDR6 PC memory standard is already underway, with the design goals of doubling bandwidth and densities over DDR5. Advancements in DRAM are propelled not just by the PC ecosystem, but also handhelds and self-driving car electronics.

DRAM Price-Fix Uncovered in China, 'Massive Evidence' Against Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron

The Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation has been conducting an anti-monopoly investigation of the global Dynamic RAM market. According to an interview of Wu Zenghou (bureau's head) in the Financial Times, this process has found "massive evidence" against the three companies (Samsung, Hynix, and Micron) that are responsible for the vast majority of this segment. "The anti-monopoly investigation into these three companies has made important progress", points out the investigator. On April these three companies were hit with a price-fixing suit on the same matter in the US, and this investigation seems to confirm those reports.

There is even an older precedent, as Samsung and Hynix were fined both by the US Department of Justice in 2005 and by the European Commission in 2010 on price-fixing allegations. The charges now are similar, and if the companies are found guilty, they could face fines of over $2.5 billion. Some analysts suggest this investigation could be part of the trade war between China and the US, with the former trying to get some leverage pushing the Chinese semiconductor company Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit as a bigger player on this market. One that, by the way, is being investigated on allegations of misappropriated trade secrets from Micron. Samsung and SK Hynix have accused China DRAM makers of industrial espionage, too.

SK Hynix Announces 1Ynm 16Gb DDR5 DRAM

SK Hynix announced that it has developed 16 Gb DDR5 DRAM, the industry's first DDR5 to meet the JEDEC standards. The same 1Ynm process technology used for the recently-developed 1Ynm 8Gb DDR4 DRAM was applied to the new DRAM, giving an industry-leading competitive edge for the Company.

DDR5 is a next-generation DRAM standard that offers ultra-high speed and high density with reduced power consumption as compared to DDR4, for use in data-intensive applications such as big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

SK Hynix Develops 10 nm-class 8 Gb DDR4 DRAM

SK Hynix Inc. announced that it has developed 1Ynm 8Gb (Gigabits) DDR4 (Double Data Rate 4) DRAM. The productivity of this product is increased by 20% and the power consumption reduced by more than 15%, compared to the previous generation, 1Xnm DRAM. It also supports a data transfer rate of up to 3,200Mbps, which is the fastest data processing speed in DDR4 interface. The Company adopted a '4-Phase Clocking' scheme, which doubles the clock signal to boost data transfer speed and stability.

SK Hynix also introduced its own 'Sense Amp. Control' technology to reduce power consumption and data errors. With this technology, the Company successfully enhanced the performance of the sense amplifier. SK Hynix improved the transistor structure to lower the possibility of data errors, a challenge that accompanies technology shrink. The Company also added a low-power power supply to the circuit to prevent unnecessary power consumption.

SK Hynix Launches World's First 'CTF-based 4D NAND Flash' (96-Layer 512Gb TLC)

SK Hynix today launched the world's first 96-Layer 512Gb CTF (Charge Trap Flash) based 4D NAND flash. Don't let the name trick you - it's still based on 3D TLC technology, but SK Hynix has gone and added a 4th dimension due to its pairing of charge trap flash technology in conjunction with PUC (Peri. Under Cell technology.

SK Hynix says that their approach is (obviously) better than the industry-wide 3D Floating Gate approach. The 4D NAND chip design results in a reduction of more than 30% in chip size, and increases bit productivity per wafer by 49% compared to the Company's 72-Layer 512Gb 3D NAND. Moreover, the product has 30% higher write and 25% higher read performance. Also, its data bandwidth is doubled to an industry-leading (in size) 64KB. Data I/O (Input Output) speed reaches 1,200Mbps (Megabits/sec) at 1.2 V.

NAND Flash Prices May See Further Drops in 2019, DRAM to Remain Flat

Solid-state drives are cheaper than ever, thanks to systematic decline in NAND flash prices owing both to oversupply and increases in densities. NAND flash prices have already declined by 50 percent over 2018, according to a DigiTimes report, and will continue to slide through 2019. ADATA chairman Simon Chen commented that NAND flash makers haven't slowed down capacity expansions, and 2019 could witness an even bigger drop in prices than 2018.

Major NAND flash makers such as IMFlash Technology, SK Hynix, Samsung, Western Digital, Toshiba, have already taped out their 96-layer 3D NAND flash products, which could enter volume production in the first half of 2019. This could impact prices of existing swelling inventories of products based on 64-layer NAND flash. In theory, the 96-layer chips introduce 50 percent increases in densities. Adoption of newer technologies such as QLC (4 bits per cell) will expand densities even further. The same report also projects that DRAM prices could largely remain flat throughout 2019. Most NAND flash makers also happen to make DRAM, and could balance their NAND flash losses with DRAM profits.

Samsung To Reduce DRAM Output Growth in Favor of Maintaining Prices, Says Bloomberg

In a bid to head off investor worries of a potential downturn, Samsung is looking to tighten their belts in regards to the manufacturing of DRAM. In particular, this move is preempted by the expectation of DRAM bit growth to be less than 20% year-over-year, with bit growth being the key measurement for gauging market demand based on the amount of memory produced. Considering the semiconductor industry is known for its up and down cycles, Samsung's preemptive move could stabilize or even drive up the cost of memory coming out of not just them but Micron and SK Hynix as well. This would help keep their profits rolling in, just in case a downturn in demand does take place, but it also means PC enthusiasts will have to deal with memory prices remaining roughly the same or possibly climb higher going forward.

Anthea Lai, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, in Hong Kong made note that "If Samsung does cut its DRAM bit growth, it shows the company is happy with the current oligopoly market structure." Elaborating further, he said that "It prefers keeping supply tight and prices high, rather than taking market share and risking lower prices, therefore chances for DRAM prices to stay strong is higher."

Samsung, SK Hynix Slowing Down NAND, DRAM Fab Expansion Plans in Wake of Lower Demand Projections

DigiTimes is reporting plans from both Samsung and SK Hynix to slow down their fabrication capacity expansion plans for NAND and DRAM in wake of lower than expected demand projection for the first half of 2019. This move comes at a time where DRM pricing is still extremely prohibitive due to "higher demand than fabrication capacity output" - and we'd already seen the companies base their fabrication expansions on lower than expected demand increases, as a way to artificially keep pricing for the memory commodity high. NAND is another case - price per GB has been dropping like a rock. And now, the companies want to thwart expected lower demand with lower production values.

Samsung, for one, has reportedly put its plans for additional new production capacity for 1ynm DRAM chips at its fabs in Hwaseong and Pyeongtaek on hold. The chip vendor previously planned to build an additional 30,000 wafers monthly for DRAM memory starting the third quarter of 2018, the sources said - but is now looking to reduce that number to keep pricing from bottoming out. Sk Hynix is also reported to have slowed down its projected production, but details are scarcer on that side of the fence. All in all, it seems that whether there is demand or not, seeing DRAM prices falling to their previous levels is a dream in both name and, not paradoxically, reality.

SK Hynix Unveils 4D NAND Flash Memory Concept

3D NAND flash revolutionized flash storage as it used the third dimension (height) to stack multiple NAND flash layers, resulting in infinitesimally smaller footprint and reduced costs. SK Hynix believes that a "4-dimensional" NAND flash package is possible. Don't worry, such a stack doesn't look like a tesseract. Conventional 3D NAND flash relies on stacks of charge-trap flash (CTF) cells spatially located alongside its periphery block (which is responsible for wiring out each of the layers of the CTF stack). On a 2-D plane you'd be spending substrate real-estate on both the CTF and periphery block.

SK Hynix believes that the periphery block can be stacked along with the CTF stack, with microscopic vias wiring up the stack along the periphery, reducing the footprint of each cell stack. 4D stacking will also allow for greater number of CTF stacks per cell. Just to be clear, we're talking about stacks of cell and not stacks of NAND flash dies. The V5 cell-stack in SK Hynix's design entails 4 cells and periphery blocks sandwiched. The first implementation of this technology is a 96-layer 4D NAND flash chip with 512 Gb of capacity and TLC (3 bits per cell) density, although the technology is ready for QLC cells. This 512 Gb chip will begin sampling by the end of 2018, and the company is already working on a 1 Tb chip for 2019.

SK Hynix to Build New $3.5B Plant for Future Memory Technologies

SK Hynix Inc. today announced that the Company will construct a new semiconductor fabrication plant (or 'the FAB') at its headquarters in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do, to respond to growing demand for memory chips and to secure a future growth engine.

Construction on the 53,000 m² site in Icheon will begin late 2018 and is slated to be completed in October 2020. SK Hynix will invest 3.5 trillion won in the FAB. The production portfolio of the FAB shall be decided considering future market conditions as well as the Company's technology capability.

Chinese DRAM Companies Stealing DRAM IP From Samsung and SK Hynix

It's not just Micron, but also Korean DRAM giants Samsung and SK Hynix, that are the latest victims of large-scale industrial espionage by Chinese DRAM makers to steal vital DRAM intellectual property (IP), according to Korea Times. Today's DRAM makers build their products on IP acquired over decades, and that is time Chinese companies do not have, and aren't willing to license from established DRAM makers, either.

"Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix have become the target of industrial espionage by Chinese memory chip manufacturers. In semiconductors, patents are critical to the cost structure. The companies have to protect what they have spent decades building. The result is Chinese companies are attempting to infringe on Samsung and SK patents," said a Korean official involved in the investigation of IP theft.

Samsung & SK Hynix 18 Nanometer DRAM Yields Plagued By Technical Problems

Digitimes reports that Korean memory manufacturers Hynix and Samsung have both been hit by unstable yield rates for their 18 nm server DRAM production.

While the yields are claimed to be sufficient for notebook and desktop PC production, they are not good enough for server memory, which has higher quality requirements. Due to the shortage, Chinese enterprises like Alibaba, Huawei, Lenovo and Tencent are now switching to use 20 nanometer DRAM for their servers, which is in better supply. Other vendors have even requested that no more 18 nm chips are shipped by these Korean suppliers, in a bid to improve quality, which might take several months, but shouldn't have a significant impact on overall DRAM prices.

NVIDIA GeForce "Volta" Graphics Cards to Feature GDDR6 Memory According to SK Hynix Deal

NVIDIA's upcoming GeForce GTX graphics cards based on the "Volta" architecture, could feature GDDR6 memory, according to a supply deal SK Hynix struck with NVIDIA, resulting in the Korean memory manufacturer's stock price surging by 6 percent. It's not known if GDDR6 will be deployed on all SKUs, or if like GDDR5X, it will be exclusive to a handful high-end SKUs. The latest version of SK Hynix memory catalogue points to an 8 Gb (1 GB) GDDR6 memory chip supporting speeds of up to 14 Gbps at 1.35V, and up to 12 Gbps at 1.25V.

Considering NVIDIA already got GDDR5X to run at 11 Gbps, it could choose the faster option. Memory remains a cause for concern. If 8 Gb is the densest chip from SK Hynix, then the fabled "GV104" (GP104-successor), which could likely feature a 256-bit wide memory interface, will only feature up to 8 GB of memory, precluding the unlikely (and costly) option of piggy-backing chips to achieve 16 GB.

China's Tsinghua Unigroup to Manufacture 3D NAND Flash for Intel

In a bid to ensure sufficient supply of NAND flash memory to meet the growing demands of not just PC, but also smartphone markets, China's Tsinghua Unigroup and Intel are in talks to license-manufacture 64-layer 3D NAND flash, based on existing IMFlash Technologies designs. IMFlash is a joint-venture between Intel and Micron Technology. Tsinghua Unigroup is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Chinese Government's ambitious plan to invest RMB 1 trillion (USD $158 billion) over the next five years, to increase China's semiconductor self-sufficiency to 70 percent, by 2025.

The move will significantly increase supply of NAND flash memory, and is seen as a market threat to Korean NAND flash giants Samsung and SK Hynix, and Japanese Toshiba. IMFlash Technology released its first 64-layer 3D NAND flash to the market in 2017, and is currently developing a 96-layer 3D NAND flash chip, which, along with newer 10 nm-class silicon fabrication process, could double densities over the current 64-layer chips.

SK Hynix Ramps Up Enterprise SSDs with Its 72-Layer 512Gb 3D NAND Flash

SK Hynix Inc. today announced that the Company recently completed developing an enterprise SATA Solid State Drive (or 'eSSD'). With its 72-Layer 512Gb (Gigabits) 3D NAND Flash chips, the Company is paving the way for its full-fledged entrance to the high value-added eSSD market. SK Hynix combined the 72-Layer 512Gb 3D NAND Flash with its in-house firmware and controller to provide the maximum density of 4TB (Terabytes). SK Hynix makes the most of its 72-Layer 512Gb 3D NAND chips to double the biggest density of the SSD of the same size with 256Gb NAND chips.

A single 4TB SSD could contain 200 UHD (Ultra-HD) movies, each of which is generally as large as approximately 20GB (Gigabytes). The new eSSD supports sequential read and write speed of up to 560MB/s (Megabytes per second) and 515MB/s, respectively, and it can perform 98,000 random read IOPS (Input/Output operations per second) and 32,000 random write IOPS. SK Hynix also improved the read latency, which is of the utmost importance in eSSD performance. The Company is sampling the product to server and data center clients in the United States.
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