Chinese DRAM Industry Spreading Its Wings: Two More DRAM Fabs Ready

Chinese DRAM Industry Spreading Its Wings: Two More DRAM Fabs Ready

Two more DRAM makers based in China, Innotron Memory and Fujian Jin Hua Integrated Circuit, are gearing up for volume production of computer memory in the coming month. Both manufacturers were founded with the help of the Chinese government, their output will initially be consumed locally.

Several years ago, the Chinese government announced plans to invest billions of U.S. dollars in the local semiconductor and adjacent high-tech industries and support appropriate companies directly and indirectly. Since the inception of the so-called Big Fund in 2014, not only over tens of billion were poured into various companies and initiatives (the plan is to invest $150 billion in the coming years), but the first actual results of their operations have started to show up. One of the industries that is developing fast in China is DRAM manufacturing. Earlier this year we reported about Xi’an UniIC Semiconductors, which started to sell its DDR4 chips developed and produced in-house. Apparently, there are at least two more DRAM makers in China ready to start shipments of their memory modules in the second half of 2018 and the first half of 2019: Fujian Jin Hua Integrated Circuit (JHICC) and Innotron Memory.

Fujian Jin Hua Integrated Circuit completed construction of its 300-mm fab in November and started to move in production tools late in 2017. According to a media report, the equipment move-in will be completed by early July and the first phase of the fab will be able to start volume production of DRAM in the third quarter. JHICC reportedly partnered with Taiwan-based UMC to develop its 22 nm DRAM manufacturing technologies, but at this point it is unclear which types of memory the company is gearing up to make. Some previous reports indicated that JHICC was looking at various specialized DRAM products (namely LPDDR4), but the actual plans might be different.

JHICC has already received the first phase of investment totaling $5.65 billion from the local authorities in Fujian, China. It is expected that aggregate investments in the Jin Hua DRAM fab will total $8 billion in the coming years. Manufacturing capacity of the JHICC’s memory fab is unknown, but the facility looks rather big on the picture.

Another China-based company that is getting ready to make DDR4 DRAM devices using its 22 nm fabrication process in the coming months is Innotron Memory (previously known as Hefei ChangXin and Hefei RuiLi). Innotron completed construction of its 300-mm fab in January and then started to move in production equipment. The company intends to start trial production of 8 Gb DRAM chips in late 2018 and then initiate volume production of these ICs sometimes in early 2019.

Innotron’s fab is not going to be very large: its initial capacity will be around 20,000 wafer starts per month in 2019, so in terms of volume it is not going to be a competitor for leading DRAM makers globally. Meanwhile, the firm intends to start building up the second phase of the fab in 2020 to boost its capacity. Furthermore, Innotron plans to complete development of its 17 nm process technology by 2021, the company announced recently.

Considering the facts that Innotron, Jin Hua, and Xi’an UniIC all had to start development of DRAM manufacturing technologies essentially from scratch, and their production capacities are not high, they are not expected to become viable competitors for companies like Micron, Samsung, and SK Hynix in terms of volumes, production efficiencies, or performance any time soon. In the meantime, there are more fabs incoming: in the recent years Tsinghua disclosed plans to invest $24 billion and $30 billion in memory chip production facilities near Wuhan and Nanjing, respectively. Furthermore, leading chip makers (Intel, Samsung, SK Hynix, etc.) already operate 3D NAND and DRAM fabs in China and invest in them to increase their capacities.

In the end, Chinese electronics industry will decrease their reliance on foreign volatile and non-volatile memory chips. Furthermore, it should be noted that it’s questionable whether Chinese memory producers have all the patent/technology licenses they need to sell their products outside of China. Or for that matter with transnational semiconductor giants investing billions of U.S. dollars in China, whether they will be able to legally prohibit Chinese companies from building their presence on the foreign markets without facing problems from the Chinese authorities. The good news for the consumer is that with more 3D NAND and DRAM production in various parts of the world pricing of appropriate chips is going to decrease. The bad news is that without proper return-on-investments the progress of technologies may slow down.

Memory production is the first step towards establishment of a full-fledged self-sufficient semiconductor industry in China. Making memory ICs is relatively easy if you have appropriate process technologies, fabs, and clients to buy output. Designing competitive high-performance processors requires access to technology expertise and appropriate technology licenses from various companies. To boost its local SoC/CPU design industry, Tsinghua Unigroup acquired Spreadtrum and RDA in 2013 (which have a license to build mobile SoCs based on select Intel’s x86 cores), then signed an agreement with Intel to co-develop semi-custom server solutions. Meanwhile, Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co., Ltd (THATIC) formed an x86 joint venture with AMD in 2016.

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Sources: DigiTimes (1, 2), EETimes, SemiEngineering, ElectronicDesign, TrendForce

SK Hynix’s Product Catalog Lists 16 Gb DDR4 Chips, Opens Doors to 256 GB DIMMs

SK Hynix’s Product Catalog Lists 16 Gb DDR4 Chips, Opens Doors to 256 GB DIMMs

SK Hynix has recently added single-die DDR4 memory chips featuring 16 Gb capacity to its product catalog. The benefit of the increase in single-die capacity is two fold: not only will the new components enable the company to build high-capacity memory modules using fewer chips, but also it will enable SK Hynix and its partners to build 256 GB DDR4 memory modules for ultra-high-end servers.

16 Gb DRAM chips per se are not exactly a breakthrough. Memory makers, including SK Hynix, already build high-capacity DRAM components by stacking two or four 8 Gb memory dies vertically using TSVs to get 16 Gb and 32 Gb components, then use such chips to build memory modules featuring 64 GB and 128 GB density. Stacking makes organization of DIMMs very complex: in the case of a 64 GB module we are dealing with a quad-ranked DIMM (featuring two physical and two logical ranks), whereas a 128 GB module is octal ranked (featuring two physical ranks and four logical ranks). LRDIMMs have a relatively high latency in general (because they use additional buffers), meanwhile complexity of 64 GB/128 GB LRDIMM architecture forces module makers to increase them even further (to CL20/CL22 for DDR4-2400/DDR4-2666 speed bins).

By contrast, SK Hynix has managed to develop single-die 16 Gb DDR4 components. Such ICs enable producers to build client memory modules or subsystems with a fewer number of chips, lowering power consumption, and allows server-class DIMMs with densities of up to 256 GB. When it comes to servers, the 16 Gb DDR4 components will allow to build dual-ranked 64 GB modules, quad-ranked 128 GB LRDIMMs and octal-ranked 256 GB LRDIMMs.

Do not expect the 256 GB modules to show up tomorrow, but the importance of ultra-high-density LRDIMMs is hard to overestimate. For example, if the microcode is adjusted to allow it, a single socket Xeon Scalable platform featuring an -M suffixed processors with 12 total memory slots could potentially support 3 TB of six-channel memory. Meanwhile, an AMD EPYC-based system can currently support 2 TB of eight-channel memory per CPU socket, and these modules could help support double that. For in-memory applications like huge databases, the more DRAM they can get the better. Undoubtedly, 128 GB and 256 GB memory modules will come at a price. For example, Crucial sells its 128 GB DDR4-LRDIMM for $3999.99 in retail, so a 2X capacity module would cost considerably higher.

SK Hynix’s 16 Gb DDR4 chips are organized as 1Gx16 and 2Gx8 and supplied in FBGA96 and FBGA78 packages, respectively. At present, 16 Gb memory components are rated to operate in DDR4-2133 CL15 and DDR4-2400 CL17 modes at 1.2 Volts. Sometimes in the third quarter SK Hynix plans to add DDR4-2666 CL19 to the lineup. SK Hynix does not disclose which manufacturing technology it uses to make its 16 Gb chips, but it is logical to expect that the company uses a fabrication process with minimal feature sizes and high yields to make large dies.

General Specifications of SK Hynix’s 16 Gb Chips
Part Number Transfer Rate Latency Org. Pkg. VDD Availability
H5ANAG6NAMR-TFC 2133 MT/s 15-15-15 1Gx16 FBGA96 1.2 V Now
H5ANAG6NAMR-UHC 2400 MT/s 17-17-17
H5ANAG6NCMR-UHC 2400 MT/s 17-17-17 Q3 2018
H5ANAG6NCMR-VKC 2666 MT/s 19-19-19
H5ANAG8NAMR-TFC 2133 MT/s 15-15-15 2Gx8 FBGA78 Now
H5ANAG8NAMR-UHC 2400 MT/s 17-17-17
H5ANAG8NCMR-UHC 2400 MT/s 17-17-17 Q3 2018
H5ANAG8NCMR-VKC 2666 MT/s 19-19-19

Keep in mind that it will take quite a while for server makers to validate 16 Gb chips and 2Hi/4Hi stacks based on them, so do not expect 256 GB modules to hit today’s servers shortly from now. In the meantime, 16 Gb DDR4 chips will enable makers of SO-DIMMs to build single-sided 16 GB DDR4 SO-DIMM modules. This will also allow thin laptops (that do not use modules, but rely on commodity memory) to install 16 GB of DRAM using eight chips. For any user wondering why most 13-inch notebooks do not want to use 16 GB of DRAM in all but the high-end specification, these chips should enable a nicer ecosystem for higher memory capacity small notebooks.

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