Samsung launches 'industry's largest' memory fab

The £6bn fab, which the company believes is the largest of its kind, will allow the company to build flash to 20nm and 10nm-class processes
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Samsung has begun the mass production of 20nm-class DDR3 DRAM at a new memory foundry the company says is the world's largest, located in Hwaseong, South Korea.

Line-16, which will have cost Samsung 12 trillion Korean won (£6.6bn) by the time it is finished and upgraded with new process technologies, started operations on Wednesday. Initially it will make DRAM on a 20nm-class process and move to a 10nm-class process in 2012, Samsung said on Wednesday.

"Housed in a 12-storey building, Line-16 is the industry's most advanced and largest memory fabrication facility," Samsung said in a statement.

"We must prepare for an intensifying storm in the semiconductor industry by further enhancing our technological capabilities and expertise in order to maintain our leadership position," Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics, said in a statement. "The global semiconductor industry is in a period of fierce cyclical volatility, so the opening of this new memory fab and the start of mass production of the world's first 20nm-class DRAM are important milestones."

The 20nm-class process allows Samsung to make dynamic and flash memory anywhere between 20 and 29 nanometres, although the company will not say exactly what feature size it is using. Intel — which competes with Samsung via its flash tie-up with Micron — believes Samsung's process measures closest to 27nm.

Samsung are ahead in process technology for DRAM but what they announce does not always follow when they deliver in commercial quantities .
– Alan Niebel, Web-Feet Research

Without disclosure about the exact feature size in production, it is not possible to establish which companies have a technical lead. "This 2xnm-class type of announcement has been an embarrassment to Samsung since they have not kept up with their process technology compared to Micron/Intel nor Toshiba/SanDisk, especially in Nand," Alan Niebel, chief executive of memory and storage analyst firm Web-Feet Research, told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "They are ahead in process technology for DRAM but what they announce does not always follow when they deliver in commercial quantities." 

Intel and Micron announced they had developed a 20nm-class process in April 2011, a year after Samsung began shipping flash in the same class. Through a joint venture — IM Flash — Intel and Micron opened their £1.8bn 20nm-class capable fab in 2011, though its initial production was based on a 25nm-class process. 

Construction started on Line-16 in May 2010, clean room equipment was installed by the following May and trial production started in June. From September, the two million square-foot fab began producing flash. Samsung believes Line-16 can produce around 10,000 12-inch Nand flash wafers per month. This is a "paltry" amount when compared with Toshiba, Niebel said, which can produce 200,000 wafers per month out of its Fab 4 facility, although Samsung is sharing Fab 16 with 20nm-class DRAM.

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