JAPAN NEWS: Interview with Elpida prez, Renesas/NEC eye 45nm ramp

August 27, 2007 – A roundup of the past week’s headlines from Japan nets an interview with Elpida Memory president Yukio Sakamoto, musing about a $3 ceiling for DRAM prices, softness for 200mm tools, and the market impact of Samsung’s recent multiline production blackout. Also in the news are Renesas/NEC’s 45nm ramp schedule, new quake-minimizing systems, an investor rebuff from NEC, and a miniature lamp for a new breed of tiny inspection devices.

Elpida exec shrugs off DRAM supply concerns

A projected replacement PC upgrade cycle with growing interest from users now less skittish about Microsoft’s Vista OS should keep demand for DRAM memory strong through the next year, though some consumer market data points should be watched closely, according to Elpida Memory Inc. president Yukio Sakamoto, in an interview with the Nikkei daily.

Demand for DRAMs has increased from large-lot users, notably PC makers who are filling new models loaded with the Vista OS that have double the processing capability (2GB of memory) from those offered earlier this year, he told the paper. Slower-than-expected inventory burnoff has weakened spot prices, but he predicts they will start to rebound starting next month, and large-lot trading prices should also accelerate with a “moderate” rise to maybe $3 as we enter the peak period to fill anticipated year-end holiday device demand.

Any pricing above that $3 mark, though, would cause demand to start cooling off, Sakamoto noted, and so any companies who hope to remain in business need to “generate sufficient profit even when prices are low.” And that means securing profits and manufacturing efficiencies for more advanced technologies, he explained. “We are confident that we will be able to secure an operating profit on our most advanced DRAM [70nm linewidths] even at a price of $2,” he told the paper. 1Gb DRAMs will likely spread through the market by next spring, he said, but they can’t be made on older 200mm lines, so look for soft pricing for both 200mm wafers and compatible processing tools, he predicted.

Though DRAM makers are improving their defect rates for leading-edge devices, Sakamoto isn’t so concerned that supplies will bloat as a result, again citing replacement demand for Vista-compatible PCs in 2008 from corporate users. In fact, he suggests there could be a supply shortage by next summer due to DRAM firms’ current hesitation to make “significant capital investment.”

A potential killer factor in all of this, though, is the potential fallout from the US subprime mortgage loan debacle, he noted, which has already shaken world stock indices, and could eventually impact consumer spending and thus replacement demand for new PCs.

Asked about the recent blackout of several DRAM lines at Samsung, Sakamoto said he suspected that despite Samsung’s assurances, “the impact was probably huge,” noting that if a similar event happened at Elpida “it would take about a month for production to recover.” Look for NAND flash shipments to fall off over the next two months, causing some chipmakers to shift their lines over to NAND flash from DRAMs, which will also tighten DRAM supplies, he said (and presumably help push prices up as well).

Renesas, NEC eyeing 45nm ramp in FY08

Renesas Technology Corp. and NEC Electronics Corp. say they will start mass production of system chips using 45nm processes by sometime in fiscal 2008, the second Japanese group to reach volume 45nm manufacturing, according to the Nikkei daily.

The news comes just months after Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. said in June that it had started the “world[‘s] first” mass production of 45nm LSI chips at its factory in Uozu, central Japan. Toshiba and Fujitsu are planning their own 45nm mass production in FY08 or maybe later, the paper notes.

Both Renesas and Matsushita revealed in February at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) that they had built a 45nm 512Kbit test chip incorporating two different memory cell designs, achieving stable operation with 45nm bulk CMOS instead of silicon-on-insulator (SOI), for SRAM that can be embedded in system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices and microprocessors.

Renesas already has done some preliminary 32nm work, describing a 32nm on-chip SOI SRAM at this year’s VLSI Symposium.

NEC: No thanks to investor offer

NEC has rejected a request from US investment fund Perry Capital LLC to acquire more shares in its NEC Electronics, notes the Nikkei daily. The subsidiary’s third-largest shareholder (4.5% stake) had offered to buy an additional 25% stake, in response to a slump in the subsidiary’s price. Still, the fund remains determined to raise its stake, and reportedly has sent another letter reiterating its doubts about the parent-subsidiary stock-market listing, and offering alternatives “to boost corporate value,” the paper noted.

Tiny deuterium lamp promises better inspection

Hamamatsu Photonics KK says it has developed a deuterium lamp that’s just one-fifth the size of current models (20nmx22nm), for use in fiber light sources in smaller analytical and measuring devices, notes the Nikkei daily. The lamp will be used in a new ultracompact fiber light source, also a fraction of current models at 40nm x 72nm x 90nm, for use in analytical devices to help pinpoint elements of a substance by measuring absorption of light from a certain wavelength. The company is projecting annual sales of 200M yen (US ~$1.7M) from the 230,000-yen (~$2000) light sources, which it projects to have applications from memory chips (checking surfaces) to heavy metals (measuring hydrogen content) and even atmospheric studies (measuring nitrogen oxide levels).


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