Samsung says it has the future of DRAM sorted after success with new EUV process

Already shipped a million units to good reviews, now says DDR5 will launch in 2021

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Samsung is confident it has the future of DRAM in the bag after successfully producing memory using a cutting-edge EUV-based lithography process.

EUV technology uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light that are close to soft X-rays. The result is smaller features, and a potentially cheaper and simpler manufacturing process, compared to today's semiconductors and fabrication techniques.

The Korean giant today said it's already produced one million EUV-fabbed 10nm DDR4 DRAM chips and that customers liked what they saw.

The South Korean giant added that it would use the new technology to make all future generations of its DRAM, starting with its 10nm and 14nm models. The company expects to use the technology to mass produce next-gen memory technology, DDR5 and LPDDR5, as early as next year.

The first batches of EUV ships emerged from its new V1 fab in Hwaseong, Korea, which opened last month after US$6bn of up-front investment.

But even with that colossal capital outlay, EUV is attractive because it requires fewer mask levels – a mask is a key component in the lithography process – which means faster production. The tech can also reduce repetitive steps in the fabrication process and do it more accurately, reducing production times.

Chipmakers have been working towards EUV adoption for years, with companies like Intel touting the technology since as far back as 2001. But development has been slow and hit more than a few speed bumps. The main problem has been that the new tech has taken time to refine and put into mass production: for one thing, it requires many companies to build entirely new facilities.

"With the production of our new EUV-based DRAM, we are demonstrating our full commitment toward providing revolutionary DRAM solutions in support of our global IT customers," said Samsung's exec veep of DRAM, Jung-bae Lee.

"This major advancement underscores how we will continue contributing to global IT innovation through timely development of leading-edge process technologies and next-generation memory products for the premium memory market.”

Although Samsung is the first company to use EUV to make DRAM, it is not the first to use the tech overall. Late last year, TSMC began shipping products based on its N7+ 7nm chips, which are made using the new technology. The semiconductor giant said the chips produced using the new tech provide 15 to 20 per cent higher transistor density, as well as 10 per cent lower power consumption than its N7 chips made using conventional methods. Intel is also developing its own EUV technology.

Together with its new V1 facility, Samsung has six fabs between South Korea and the US. The company will start operation on a second DRAM fab in Pyeongtaek, South Korea in the second half of this year. ®

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