Good Old America

Great to see a new memory technology emerge. This is the sort of stuff which used to make the semiconductor industry constantly exciting and, true to the tradition of new US semiconductor technologies, the new CMOx memory technology, pioneered by Unity Semiconductor, has come from an American venture capital-backed start-up company.

 

Every major technological innovation in the semiconductor industry has come from America. When it comes to big new innovative breakthroughs – the transistor, the IC, semiconductor memory, the microprocessor, programmable logic – all have come from the Americans.

 

The only one that didn’t come from America was flash memory, which was invented by Toshiba. Even then it was an American company, Intel, which was the first company to get a commercial flash memory to market with its 28F256.

 

Unity says it’s about to tape out a 64Gbit memory. It says it will be in production in two years time. It says CMOx will scale to 20nm. It says its technology delivers a density 4X that of NAND and up to 10X faster.

 

It’s not the most stunning aspiration ever seen in the memory business. When Intel was formed to pursue semiconductor memory its technology aimed to bring the cost of memory down 100X.

 

But the key advantage of CMOx may be the claim that it can scale to 20nm. No one seems to think NAND will scale to 20nm.

 

So good old America. It may have turned out another fundamental breakthrough in semiconductor technology and done it via the traditional US route of the VC-backed start-up.

 

TOMORROW MORNING: The 2005 Semiconductor Top Ten.

 

By 2005 Europe was at its high-water mark of success in the semiconductor industry with three companies in the top ten. Europe’s success came from its expertise in SOC, helped by pan-European R&D programmes like MEDEA, which emhasised the development of  platforms.

Tags: medea, NAND, pan european, programmable logic

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6 Comments

  1. David Manners
    May 20, 2009 14:52

    Very interesting Fabrice. The answer to your question is that the Unity process is at least partly compatible with CMOS logic processes. “We can manufacture CMOx at foundries using a standard CMOS logic process”, Darell Rinerson, Unity’s CEO, told me. They’ve split the processing into two stages, each to be performed by different fabs. I think this is mainly to try and avoid commoditisation. Unity tells me they have entered into a relationship with a Japanese company which will use its 90nm CMOS logic process to make the base layers (three layers of metal) for the 64G memory. The idea is that the wafer then goes to another company’s fab (as yet not chosen) which has (or will have) a 35nm process to put on the memory layers (4 physical layers). The total mask count will be only ‘modestly higher’ than the mask count for NAND, and the wafer cost will be 1.5X more expensive than NAND, but the die cost will be less than NAND, because the density is 4X NAND density for the same area of silicon.

  2. fabrice
    May 20, 2009 14:26

    Thanks for the write endurance info.
    Do you think this technology is compatible with a logic process ? Because in such a case, this technology could be a good fit for FPGA, to hold the FPGA configuration. This would provide:
    - a die reduction (SRAM cells are big)
    - the removal of the external configuration flash
    - instand on operation
    - improved resilience to soft error.
    Moreover microcontroller with integrated flash are limited in speed because logic implemented on a flash process is slow. Thus, if compatible with logic process, the CMOx technology may have other markets than just flash substitution (which is maybe a low margin business ?, while microcontroller and FPGA are high margin ones !).

  3. David Manners
    May 20, 2009 10:13

    Thanks phonon, that’s very interesting. I’ll follow that up.

  4. David Manners
    May 20, 2009 10:11

    Fabrice, Have now spoken to Unity and they say the endurance is the same as NAND quoting 10,000 to 100,000 cycles so CMOx will use the same wear-levelling algorithms as NAND.

  5. fabrice
    May 20, 2009 09:36

    I had a look at the Unity web site, and the write endurancy of their technology is not described at all.
    Write endurancy (and cost per bits) are the two factors which reduce SSD market adoption.
    I wonder if write endurancy is not the Achille heel of their technology (because otherwise they could have says something like “CMOx has a write endurancy comparable/superior/unlimited to flash”).
    Maybe you could scratch the matter a little, as you brightly did with the “phase memory” techno ponzy scheme.

  6. phonon
    May 19, 2009 19:30

    The CMOx memory element is what the “memristor” strived to be. Unlike the much hyped contraption by HP, these guys really understood the involved mechanisms and taylored them to their needs.
    The required manufacturing technology looks challenging. Will be interesting to see whether it works in high volume manufacturing.
    Interestingly it appears that Sandisk is working on a very similar concept, based on the Matrix Semiconductor IP portfolio.

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