Toshiba and Western Digital (WD) announced the joint development of a 96-layer 3D NAND flash memory, but the semiconductor industry is questioning it. This is because Toshiba and WD which just entered the mass production of 64-layer 3D NAND flash memories are planning to mass-produce 96-layer NAND flash memories more aggressively than Samsung Electronics which is the top ranker in the industry.
In the industry, it is said that as the two companies, which are connected via a joint venture (JV), are currently suing each other over the sale of Toshiba’s memory semiconductor business, the development of next-generation NAND flash development still remains unknown. Industry officials are raising suspicions about Toshiba's distribution of the press release, saying, “The distribution of the press release is doing a media play to complete the early sale of the semiconductor business."
Toshiba and WD announced on June 27 that they jointly developed next-generation 96-layer BiCS 3D NAND flash technology, according to the semiconductor industry on July 2. The latest product mass-produced at the moment is a 64-layer product. Toshiba and WD are the only two companies that officially announced the success of 96-layer 3D NAND flash technology development.
However, in the semiconductor industry, experts are skeptical about whether or not Toshiba has energy and money to spare for R&D which requires massive investment as Toshiba is suffering a serious financial problem that compels the company to worry about being delisted. Toshiba is going forward with the sale of its semiconductor business to prevent its stocks from being listed due to capital impairment in March next year.
In addition, a dominant view is that Toshiba and WD’s alleged development of 96-layer 3D NAND technology itself cannot determine their technological edge. It usually takes more than a year for a prototype to be mass-produced as a finished product becasue a semiconductor company has to solve many problems such as reliability issues.
Even though NAND flash memories have the same number of layers, there is a difference in their performance depending on companies’ technology or semiconductor production methods. Therefore, a large number of layers does not guarantee better performance.
It is said that Samsung Electronics already succeeded in developing a 96-stage 3D NAND flash memory but did not announce it due to the nature of the industry that cannot guarantee successful mass production. "More advanced products have made mass-production processes more difficult,” an industry official explained. “Thus, Samsung Electronics is waiting for a time for full-scale mass production while keeping away from distributing press releases or PR activities.
In particular, analysis says that Toshiba is trying to raise the price of its semiconductor business unit or accelerate its sale by accentuating its competitiveness through the announcement.
"It is doubtful that Toshiba made such an announcement at this point," an industry representative said. "Toshiba's 96-layer 3D NAND mass-production will be realized one year from now and after the sale of the semiconductor business unit. So, it seems that Toshiba went too far by making such an announcement.
Toshiba plans to mass-produce a 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory that Toshiba successfully developed in July of last year, this month, about one year later. Samsung Electronics, a leader of NAND flash memories, succeeded in mass-production of a 64-layer 3D NAND memory at the end of last year, which is six months earlier that Toshiba, and plans to increase the proportion of its production to more than a half this year.
According to market researcher IHS Markets, Samsung Electronics (36.7% share) more than doubled its market share gap with Toshiba (17.2%) in the NAND market in the first quarter of this year. The two companies were followed by WD (15.5%), SK Hynix (11.4%), Micron (11.1%) and Intel (7.4%).
On the other hand, according to the semiconductor industry and foreign companies on July 2, Nomura Securities estimated that Samsung Electronics' semiconductor sales in the second quarter of this year (April - June) will hit US$15.1 billion which surpass Intel’s US$14.4 billion. "In the second quarter, we expect Samsung to overtake Intel and become the world's largest chipmaker for the first time," the Financial Times also reported, In particular, Nomura Securities cited "if memory chip prices do not fall sharply, Samsung Electronics will outclass Intel in terms of annual sales. Estimated revenues are US$63.6 billion by Samsung and US$60.5 billion by Intel.
A sharp rise in demand for memory semiconductors such as D-RAMs and SSDs in mobile devices and data servers empowered Samsung to overtake Intel and topped the semiconductor industry for the first time.
Intel has kept the crown of the semiconductor industry for 24 years since beginning to produce Pentium CPUs for PCs in 1993. Intel planted an equality of “CPU = Intel” in the minds of the public through the advertisement of 'Intel Inside' which is very unusual for a semiconductor company which is a B2B company. However, a slowdown of the PC market is making Intel go downhill.