Despite a sluggish NAND flash market, contract pricing has remained flat across the major manufacturers. By avoiding potentially destructive price programs and being less flexible with clients’ pricing requirements, suppliers steered clear of narrowing profit margins while maintaining a conservative attitude. 1Q14 was not good to the NAND industry and profits fell considerably, forcing the big four NAND manufacturers to be less willing to compromise on pricing in 2Q14.
3D NAND efforts have increased during this slow time. Samsung’s plant in Xian, China will be focusing partly on 3D NAND as well as on increased output. Production growth in 2014 should only hit average levels because the new 3D parts require customer testing and approval. Also, depending on how quickly their 3D lines take off, the Xian plant may have to adjust its production across its product lines. Toshiba, with its partner Sandisk, will be replacing one of the fabs on their Yokkaichi campus and convert production from 2D to 3D NAND. The new facility is expected to be ready by September 2015.
Toshiba is keeping itself busy on the NAND side with its announcement last month for the first UHS-II compliant microSD memory card. The UHS-II standard set forth by the SD Card Association includes a new pin layout. The second row of pins support the UHS-II bus signals while the first row of pins handle both normal and high speeds as well as the UHS-I bus signal. Despite their compatibility with non-UHS-II devices, these new super high-speed cards are slow out of the gate due to the lack of UHS-II host devices available on the market right now.
Last month, we learned about Micron’s announcement of a 16-nm triple-level cell (TLC) NAND to compete on cost in the tenacious retail/consumer markets with the added benefit of a potential low-cost solid state drive (SSD) line offered through Crucial. It appears that those plans are still on track because this week it was revealed that Crucial/Micron officially will be announcing their new budget-based MX100 SSDs in early June, which coincidentally is the same time as Computex. The MX100 line will be using 16-nm 128 gigabit (Gb) NAND and pricing will come in under US $0.48/GB.