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Intel and Micron Unveil 25nm NAND Flash
Date: Jan 31, 2010
Author: Mathew Miranda
25nm NAND Is Here

IM Flash Technologies is a joint venture between Intel and Micron that is targeted for producing NAND flash memory. With a focus on research and development, IMFT has doubled NAND density approximately every 18 months. In 2006, they started production with a 50nm process, then moved to a 40nm process in 2008. This co-development inevitably lead to smaller, more affordable NAND flash-based products featuring higher capacities, much like we have witnessed in the SSD market and with USB flash drives over the past couple of years. 
February 1, 2010 will mark the official announcement of IMFT's 25 nanometer NAND technology--a major advancement for the company. Intel and Micron now lay claim to the smallest production ready semiconductor process technology in the world. The companies describe their collective efforts as such...

“To lead the entire semiconductor industry with the most advanced process technology is a phenomenal feat for Intel and Micron, and we look forward to further pushing the scaling limits,” said Brian Shirley, vice president of Micron’s memory group. “This production technology will enable significant benefits to our customers through higher density media solutions.”

“Through our continued investment in IMFT, we’re delivering leadership technology and manufacturing that enable the most cost-effective and reliable NAND memory,” said Tom Rampone, vice president and general manager, Intel NAND Solutions Group. “This will help speed the adoption of solid-state drive solutions for computing.”

We also have a bit of video from the actual briefing on IMFT's new 25nm technology, as it was being given. In the video above, you can hear Intel VP Tom Rampone and Micron VP Brian Shirley talk about 25nm process technology and its features and benefits.

25nm Wafer
So what does this mean for consumers? Basically, the shrink to 25nm reduces the dies size of the NAND flash chips, which enables higher densities, and hence the chip count within products can be reduced by up to 50% when compared to the previous process generation. It allows for smaller, yet higher density designs at lower costs. For example, a particular SSD may be able to be produced using only 16 chips versus 32. Solid State Drives will feature larger maximum capacities while prices of current options will be driven further down. We were told to expect performance to be on par with 34nm products, though there are the obvious intrinsic benefits of a die geometry shrink from a performance standpoint. 

8GB MLC NAND Device - 167mm²

Of course, there will be a number of products based on this technology over time. The first one will be the industry's first monolithic 8GB NAND device. At a die size of 167mm², it is twice the capacity of their highest density 34nm part in roughly the same footprint. It is
small enough to fit through the hole in the middle of a compact disc, but is able to store more than 10 times the data capacity of a CD. In roughly the same real estate, SSD makers will now be able to provide double the capacity as the previous generation.

IMFT is on track to begin production of this device and expects to start shipping in the second quarter of this year. Consumers can expect products featuring 25nm flash memory towards the end of 2010.

Micron and Intel are also supporters of the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI). ONFI is a consortium of tech companies working to develop open standards for NAND memory and supporting devices. The formation of the group was initially announced at the Intel Developer Forum in 2006 and began the effort to standardize the low level interface to NAND flash chips that are on the market today. One of the main motivations for this is to make it easier to switch between chips from different manufacturers, which allows faster development of NAND-based products and lower prices through broader competition among manufacturers. Besides Intel and Micron, the ONFI consortium is led by several prominent manufactures of NAND such as Hynix, SanDisk, and Sony.

The 8GB NAND device shown above supports the ONFI 2.2 interface standard, delivering up to 200MB/s of throughput bandwidth. Both Intel and Micron have been pleased with it and feel it is very much in tune to what they have driven in the DRAM world, using standard synchronous interfaces to increase speed. This is critical when SSD manufacturers rely on high speed communication between chips.        

Inside The Fab

In January 2006, Micron and Intel formed IM Flash Technologies, LLC. IMFT combines the technology, assets, and industry experience of the two companies to create NAND flash memory. Jointly investing over $2 billion dollars, they opened up a semiconductor fabrication plant in Lehi, Utah which currently operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This fab employs about two thousand people. 


IMFT is currently celebrating their 4 year anniversary as a silicon manufacturing machine for the two industry heavyweights. The companies are combining Micron's manufacturing and NAND expertise along with Intel's multi-level cell knowledge in order to move the technology forward.
To coincide with the 25nm process technology announcement, a select group of press was allowed to enter the IMFT fab and given a tour of the site. We were the first group of press and analysts to see the plant. As you can imagine, security was tight and we were not allow to use photography of any kind during the expedition. Instead, IMFT provided us with the following images which mirror the sights we were shown during our tour.


The central area of the fab is the clean room, where the environment is controlled and air is scrubbed to eliminate dust down to micrometer size and no more than 10 particles per cubic meter levels. Before entering the fabrication areas, we put on clean room suits also known as bunny suits. These garments covered all parts of the body with the exception of eyes and the nose. Once inside, the lack of people working inside the fab was surprising. It was explained that most of the people we saw were technicians conducting preventive maintenance and ensuring the equipment operated within specifications. What the images are unable to show is the bustling movement of machinery occurring overhead and along the walls of this fully automated fab, carrying materials to the various stations within the plant. 


Each orange container contains 25 wafers. Once the container reaches a point in the fabrication chain, the wafers are individually worked on by the fab tools. Then the container is carried to the next piece of equipment and the process is repeated. The last couple of images are looking up at the ceiling and show the elaborate transportation system that the containers travel from one tool to the next.

We really enjoyed our tour inside the manufacturing plant. The entire process of donning bunny suits and witnessing the fabrication process occurring right before our eyes was interesting to say the least. As technology enthusiasts, we traditionally deal with the end product and rarely get the chance to see where the individual components came from or how they were manufactured. The IMFT tour was definitely an eye opening experience and one that we won't forget anytime soon. What's perhaps even more interesting however, will be the fruits of Intel and MIcron's collective efforts with their new 25nm NAND technology.  We'll be here to deliver you more of that story in the weeks ahead.

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