Chinese memory chip maker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (YMTC) is pushing to start mass production of the sixth-generation 128-layer 3D NAND flash chip in 2020. YMTC, which barely revealed its 32-layer NAND prototype in October, has set the ambitious goal to leapfrog 64-layer and 90-layer NAND and move straight to the mass production of 128-layer flash two years later.
According to Taiwan-based information technology (IT) newspaper website DigiTimes and industry sources on Nov. 19, YMTC has provided the blueprint to start the development of 128-layer 3D NAND in the second half of next year and the mass production in 2020. A 3D NAND chip is divided by layer into a third generation (32 layers), fourth generation (64 and 72 layers) and fifth generation (92 and 96 layers) and it usually takes about a year to jump over one generation.
YMTC, a NAND chip unit under China’s largest state-run Tsinghua Unigroup, developed 32-layer NAND in the fourth quarter this year. Considering the fact that 32-layer NAND chips were produced by Samsung Electronics in 2014, the company has a technological gap with the leading firm by three to four years. Currently, only Samsung and Toshiba can mass produce the fifth-generation NAND chips. In addition, SK Hynix recently completed the development of 96-layer NAND and it will start mass production at the end of this year. Samsung is planning to introduce 100-layer NAND in the second half of next year. If YMTC mass produces 128-layer NAND in two years as scheduled, its technological gap with Samsung will be rapidly narrowed by one year.
Accordingly, there is tension in the domestic semiconductor industry. This is because China’s aim to become a superpower in semiconductors, which has been paralyzed by a trade dispute between the United States and China, has been confirmed again. Moreover, a sense of crisis is mounting up as the Chinese government announced on Nov. 16 that it is speeding up its antitrust investigation into foreign memory producers.
An official from the industry said, “Even China mass produces the just-developed 32-layer product, there is no price competitiveness. The company must have decided to produce the sixth-generation product as soon as possible in order to compete properly with leading companies.”
Another official also said, “We have to wait and see if China can mass produce 128-layer NAND two years later. However, we should remain vigilant because China is more likely to drag domestic companies down in the name of price-fixing.”