Time is ripe for emerging non-volatile memory, say analysts Yole

Time is ripe for emerging non-volatile memory, say analysts Yole

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The key emerging non-volatile technologies like phase-change memory (PCM), magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) and resistive random access memory (RRAM) have long development histories.
By Graham Prophet

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Yet, their adoption remains restricted to niche markets due to various factors. Available products have limited density, and the introduction of high density products by emerging NVM pioneers has been delayed. There are manufacturing challenges due to the introduction of new materials and process steps. Meanwhile, mainstream memory technologies are continuously improving in terms of density and cost. Finally, there has been an absence of a killer application that would challenge dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and NAND flash memory.

However, favorable factors are now emerging that that will propel the emerging NVM business onto a rapid growth trajectory, observes market research firm Yole Développement.

These include the appearance of new storage class memory (SCM) business segment. This is an additional memory hierarchy in system architectures between working memory and data storage. Its aim is to reduce latency by increasing system speed. It will support and co-exist with DRAM and NAND.

Big players like Intel are introducing PCM-based 3D XPoint memory to the market in 2017 for SCM applications. Micron will introduce a 3D XPoint memory product by the end of 2017. Investors are still upbeat about the emerging NVM business, as evidenced by over $100M of funding in 2016.

Big foundries like TSMC, Samsung, GlobalFoundries, UMC and SMIC are entering the emerging NVM memory business. They will introduce MRAM and RRAM technology for embedded MCUs in the 2018/2019 timeframe. Emerging NVM is a good opportunity for foundries to significantly grow their memory business as it is CMOS compatible technology.

According to Yole, the market for emerging NVM will grow at a 106% compound annual growth rate from 2016-2022 (CAGR 2016-2022) to reach around $3.9B by 2022. The new SCM hierarchy and embedded MCUs will drive this. Creating a new memory category is a sea-change that will require numerous hardware and software developments by all memory ecosystem players.

Yole expects SCM to be adopted in enterprise storage and client applications, and later in mobile. Analysts see the introduction of XPoint memory product by Intel in early 2017, targeting the SCM application, as the game changer.

Embedded MCUs often use eflash NVM technology, but this technology consumes lots of power and its scalability becomes cost-prohibitive at the 28nm lithography node. With its recent scalability progress, emerging NVM will be increasingly used in low-power MCUs for Internet-of-Things (IoT) and wearables, smart cards, and other markets. This will happen first in the 40nm-node processes thanks to their lower power consumption, and then at 28nm thanks to their competitive cost, and then at 22nm. Top foundries such as TSMC, GlobalFoundries, UMC, SMIC and Samsung are definitely driving emerging NVM implementation because they manufacture most of the business’s MCUs.


A main selection criterion for memory is chip scalability and density, since this impacts both performance and cost. To this end, Yole’s report provides a precise memory roadmap in terms of technological nodes, chip density, and pricing.

Yole’s report “Emerging Non-Volatile Memory 2017 report” describes why and how emerging NVM technologies will be increasingly used in various markets. There are two key market segments described in this report. The first is standalone applications, which includes enterprise storage SCM, client SCM, mass storage, industrial, transportation, and consumer electronics. The second is embedded applications, including MCUs, mobile device static RAM (SRAM), SRAM cache for high-performance computing and embedded NVM systems-on-chips.

 

Standalone versus embedded memory: different routes 

The emerging NVM market is mainly led by three technologies: PCM, RRAM and MRAM. In the stand-alone market, which is mostly focused on SCM for the next five years, the big players’ technological choices are now quite clear. Micron/Intel has chosen PCM. SK Hynix and Sandisk/Western Digital have selected RRAM as the competitor to PCM for SCM applications. Samsung seems also to favor RRAM thanks to its compatibility with the vertical 3D approach used for 3D NAND. The SCM market will initially be led by PCM but later RRAM will take the lead.
For embedded applications, the battle will be intense between the different emerging NVM technologies. However, we expect that multiple solutions will coexist depending on application requirements. Spin Transfer-Torque Magnetic RAM (STTMRAM) has been adopted by the top foundries including TSMC, GlobalFoundries, Samsung and Sony.

STTMRAM’s initial focus is the development of the MCU eFlash market followed by substitution of SRAM in mobile and high performance computing. For RRAM embedded applications, key adopters are TSMC, UMC and SMIC. RRAM’s initial focus will be for low cost applications like embedded MCUs for smart cards, IoT and general purpose applications. The ultimate target for RRAM is to replace 3D NAND in high performance MPUs, enabling integration into a single SoC.


PCM is still in the race, with STMicroelectronics as the main promoter, having selected PCM as the best emerging NVM solution for the 28nm node in the automotive market.
Yole’s report provides a market forecast for each technology by application, in units, in Gbit, by revenue, and also in number of wafers. It also presents a review of the main technological trends and some key technical developments by the main players.

There are a wide variety of technologies, business models, and markets, especially comparing stand-alone against embedded, in the emerging NVM market. As such, the report analyzes in detail the different supply chain players in detail, presenting integrated device manufacturers (IDMs), foundries and emerging NVM start-up companies, in the stand-alone and embedded markets, and their strategies to adopt emerging NVM.


One big technological transition occurring right now is the substitution of hard disk drives with semiconductor NAND solid-state drives. The next revolution will be emerging NVM’s arrival. Yole has analyzed the supply chain’s dynamics to understand who today’s key market players are in each application and technology, and how the competitive landscape will evolve with the arrival of emerging NVM. The research firm has also conducted a special analysis of the Chinese memory supply chain, which is growing rapidly thanks to huge Chinese government financing plans and the country’s substantial memory needs.

Emerging Non-Volatile Memory report, 2017 editionwww.yole.fr

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