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NAND flash, why does Intel bother?

Losing memory
Fri Dec 18 2009, 12:51

AT THE BOTTOM of the end-of-year figures for the troubled NAND flash memory market there was the poor performance of Intel.

In the numbers you see the rise of Samsung, with Toshiba fast gaining ground, and one has to wonder what Intel is doing in there.

The NAND market is punch drunk after a major downturn in demand last year. Global NAND flash memory revenue in the third quarter rose to $3.94 billion, up 25.5 percent from $3.1 billion in the second quarter.

This year NAND Flash makers shut down 200mm wafer production lines and moved to end oversupply. This boosted prices, but it still made for vicious market competition.

Intel and Micron Technology have a joint NAND venture and, while Micron has done okay overall, Intel continues to lag in the rankings.

Generally Intel NAND is made for its own SSD lines. Intel has good sales with its SSD but it cannot seem to achieve the margins to make its NAND production worthwhile.

This has led many analysts to wonder if Intel will flog off its NAND flash memory line and outsource the lot to one of its competitors who will offer it a better deal.

It has already walked away from the NOR and other bits of memory manufacture that can be made by cheap and cheerful Far Eastern factories at lower cost, so what is to stop it from moving away from NAND?

Well, there is one good reason for Intel to stay in the NAND market, at least for another year. NAND flash memory is starting to look as if it will be in short supply.

Consumer devices are sucking up all the spare production there is and prices are looking like they will be rising again.

Analysts think that NAND memory makers will be making money hand over fist next year. The success of SSDs, which will mean big bucks for Intel, is dependant on costs going lower. If NAND prices go up too much then its possible that Chipzilla will not be able to make this happen. µ


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