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Elpida denies half-a-BEEELLION-dollar Micron buy-in

Overcoming resistance

Speculation, reports and rumour are swirling around Elpida like leaks from a failing US primary candidate's campaign room. The latest has Micron Technology spending half a billion bucks to buy into Elpida while that company announces its first Resistance RAM chip; proving its worth so to speak.

The DRAM market is over-subscribed; there are too many suppliers chasing a flattening, even declining market where margins are wafer thin and wafer volume is everything. Elpida doesn't have enough volume and is crippled by debts in a market where the leading companies, led by Samsung, are South Korean. The other DRAM suppliers – such as Micron and Nanya – are feeling the heat and consolidation is in the air, with the post-flash market an attractive new battleground in which to go for gold.

DigiTimes cites Chinese-language daily Economic Daily News in its report about Micron's Elpida investment.

DRAM is fast, power-hungry and volatile. NAND is slow and non-volatile and running out of steam as process sizes go down below 20nm to 10nm and beyond, as as the bit count per cell goes up to 3 and then on to 4. It seems likely we will never see 4-bit NAND and/or sub-10nm NAND because write speed and endurance will be abysmally poor.

A clutch of follow-on technologies are being tried out by DRAM and NAND chip-makers, and they generally combine DRAM speed and NAND non-volatility and include HP's Memristors; STT-RAM, which Micron is interested in; CMOX; MRAM; and Phase-Change Memory.

Elpida's ReRAM chip uses a 50nm process and has a 64Mbit capacity. Elpida says its write speed is a DRAM-like 10 nanosecs and it has an endurance of more than 1 million write cycles. Development is geared to volume production of a Gbit-class chip next year using a 30nm process.

Elpida claims: "If the high-speed durable new memory can be provided at low cost it will contribute enormously to a reduction of memory power consumption. This will make it an attractive storage (recording medium) option in a variety of information technology products, such as smartphones, tablet devices and ultra-thin light notebook PCs."

The 64Mbit prototype was jointly developed with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a Japanese-funded public institution. The Gbit-class development work is a joint effort with Sharp, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST, another Japanese public institution) and the University of Tokyo.

If Micron does spend up to $500m to buy into Elpida, its horses in the post-NAND stakes will include CMOX, PCM, ReRAM, and STT-RAM, probably a bigger stable than that of any other supplier.

Elpida had this to say about reports on its financial future and memory supplier consolidation: "We wish to emphasize that these reports are not based on information Elpida itself has released. Furthermore, they have no factual basis. Lastly, Elpida declines to comment on reports that are based on rumor or speculation."

The $500m decision, as the rumour goes, could take place as soon as February... so the only way we'll know for sure is to wait and see. ®

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