NEWS FROM TAIWAN: Plot thickens for Macronix ownership, collaboration interests

June 4, 2007 – Among the past week’s news in Taiwan, a reported deal between Taiwan’s Macronix and Qimonda AG has raised the stakes in the memory market, and raised eyebrows as a possible thwart to increased influence from Powerchip. Elsewhere, UMC can thank SiS for an upcoming spike in its 300mm utilization rates, and MediaTek is scrambling to find room to produce its digital TV demodulators.

Macronix/Qimonda deal seen as thwart to PSC maneuver

A reported deal between Macronix and Qimonda AG to make NAND flash memory has raised the stakes in the memory market, with firms eyeing next-generation NAND technologies as well as possible alternatives to DRAM, notes the Taiwan Economic News. The deal also is fueling speculation that Macronix may be sidling up to Qimonda and Nanya Technology Corp., which reportedly has an interest in NAND memory manufacturing.

Details of the Macronix/Qimonda partnership won’t be revealed until Macronix’s shareholders meeting on June 29, but the paper says Macronix will lead technology development, with Qimonda providing production capacity and “peripheral technologies.” Macronix chairman/president Minn Wu stressed that the deal does not involve financial support from Qimonda, and the companies “will cooperate on a reciprocal basis,” the paper said. Qimonda is seen looking for a NAND partner after a costly licensing deal with Israel’s Saifun fell through.

At the heart of the Qimonda/Macronix deal is the Taiwan company’s proprietary bandgap engineered silicon oxide nitric oxide silicon (BESONOS), which is currently under development (the Taiwan paper notes Macronix is applying for 41 patents). The technology, which can adjust a chip’s silicon-oxide bandgap, is being viewed as a next-gen replacement for NAND beyond the 45nm node, capable of producing chips with 100GB of memory storage capacity. Macronix says trial production could occur later this year, but commercial manufacturing is still 5-10 years away.

The paper also speculated that such a partnership might have boardroom implications too, used as leverage in a power struggle for control of the Taiwanese firm. PowerChip Semiconductor Corp. currently is Macronix’s biggest institutional investor (10% stake), and wants to take control of half of Macronix’s 15 board seats in an attempt to consolidate power and partnerships, the paper notes. But Macronix’s Wu argues that PSC just wants access to the firm’s hundreds of memory patents (including NAND flash and BESONOS) and then dispose of the rest and any international partnerships. Wu has vowed that if current directors lose in the upcoming reelection, he and the whole management team will resign, the Taiwan paper noted.

Should Powerchip gain control of Macronix, it could lure participation from Renesas and Nanya, given ties between Renesas and friendly Qimonda-Nanya relations, and create a formidable collaborative power to compete against Samsung and Hynix, the paper noted. Thus, Macronix’s move to partner with Qimonda is seen as a preemptive strike against PSC.

Qimonda already has been working with Macronix and IBM in phase-change memory development, months ago unveiling a new prototype device that they claim switches orders of magnitude faster than flash memory, while using half the power and with far smaller footprint. Qimonda “>licensed to supply chipsets compatible with Intel’s Core 2 Quad processors using 1333MHz frontside bus technology. Rival Via Technologies, though, is still the largest supplier of Intel-compatible chipsets.

MediaTek under the gun for demodulator output

Healthy demand from electronics giants Samsung and Philips for MediaTek’s soon-to-be-released demodulator SoC devices for digital TVs — requiring the production equivalent of up to 10,000 300mm/90nm wafers — have caused the Taiwan firm to ask TSMC about acquiring more capacity from the big foundry, notes the Taiwan Economic News.

After validating the chips with TSMC in late 2006, MediaTek plans to start shipping the chips in August, the paper notes. Sales of the digital-TV chips should amount to $80 million in the next quarter alone, and increasing to $100 million by 4Q, according to projections from “foreign institutional investors.” Major clients include Samsung and Philip; rival demodulator suppliers include Trident and Genesis.


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