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Samsung Electronics’ 1Q earnings presentation (conference call) held on the 26th of last month. When Nicholas Godu and an analyst at UBS Securities asked, “What is the schedule for mass production of 1z DRAM,” Han Jin-man, vice president of Samsung Electronics’ memory division, gave an answer that was not asked. “1z DRAM refers to 15nm (nanometer, 1nm = 1 billionth of a meter) DRAM.” At the moment, the participants of the concall said that they were astonished. “Isn’t it a mistake” even came out. This is the first time since February 2015 that Samsung Electronics has revealed the line width of a DRAM such as ’15nm’ (the width of a circuit through which electrons flow) at an official stone statue.
○ Samsung, DRAM technology marketing in earnest
It was confirmed that Han’s remarks that day were’intentional’. According to the semiconductor industry on the 5th, Samsung Electronics decided to accurately disclose the line width of its DRAM and to intensify the technology competition in the future. Line width is regarded as a representative measure of the technological prowess of semiconductor companies. The narrower it is, the smaller and more power-efficient semiconductors can be made.
In the last 5-6 years, industry practice has been to not disclose specific line widths. As the DRAM process entered the 10nm range in 2016, a tacit gentleman agreement was signed between DRAM companies to refrain from technological competition and marketing at the nm level. For DRAMs with high process difficulty, it takes 2-3 years to narrow the line width to 1 nm. The practical benefit of technology marketing is not great.
For this reason, DRAM makers have expressed the line width in the last 5-6 years in a “full range” manner. Among the 10nm DRAMs in 2016, the first product in the 10nm range was expressed as ‘1x’ (1st generation 10nm), the 2nd generation product that appeared in 2018 as ‘1y’, and the 3rd generation as ‘1z’. At the beginning of this year, even ‘1a’, meaning the fourth generation, appeared.
In the market, 1x was estimated to be in the late 10nm range and 1z in the mid-10nm range. Accordingly, it is difficult to understand the difference in specifications between Samsung Electronics’ 1z DRAM and SK Hynix’s 1z DRAM.
○ Purpose of emphasizing’technological superiority’ in fierce competition
What is the reason why Samsung Electronics broke the practice after 6 years and specifically stated the line width? An industry insider explained, “The purpose is to show confidence in the company’s DRAM technology and reduce market confusion.” In addition, he said, “The 1a DRAM mass produced by Samsung Electronics in the second half is 14nm.”
In the industry, the real reason that Samsung Electronics decided to disclose the line width is the fierce technological competition in the DRAM industry. As EUV (extreme ultraviolet) equipment, which was mainly used for foundry processes below 7nm, enters the DRAM process, competition for microprocessing is in progress, which puts the pride of companies. The top 5 DRAM makers such as Nanya in Taiwan are also pushing for microprocessing in the early 10nm range.
Samsung Electronics was the first to begin mass production of the first-generation 10nm (1x) DRAM in early 2016, leading the technology competition by six months to a year compared to competitors such as SK Hynix and Micron. Until the development of 1z DRAM in 2019, there was no change in this trend. Even if the line width was not disclosed in detail, it was said that’Samsung Electronics is the best in DRAM technology’.
The atmosphere changed from the 4th generation 10nm (1a) DRAM. Micron, the third-largest company, declared in January that it was the first in the world to develop and mass-produce 1a DRAM. Industry and academia said, “The world’s No. 1 Samsung Electronics was hit by Micron.”
○ Competitors say, “Why suddenly?”
Among the senior management of Samsung Electronics’ DS (semiconductor parts) division, it is said that there are considerable complaints about the reputation. Although it is not disclosed externally, Samsung Electronics memory division officials are proud that the performance of their products is far superior to those of competitors in all 1x, 1y, and 1z DRAMs.
It is also known that there are considerable doubts about whether Micron’s 1a DRAM can be viewed as a’real 4th generation product’. It means that Micron has started to’bounce technology’. Micron announced the news of development and mass production, but does not disclose product photos. A professor at the Department of Semiconductor said, “Even if it is a DRAM of the same generation, there is a clear technological gap between the products of the three major companies.” It was declared” he analyzed.
DRAM rivals are gloomy reactions. This is because the’technology marketing competition’ in the DRAM industry is expected to become more intense due to Samsung Electronics’ strategy revision. An official from a DRAM company expressed an uncomfortable appearance, saying, “Inside, there is a reaction that’Samsung is suddenly why’.”
Reporter Hwang Jeong-soo