ChangXin Memory Technologies (CXMT), previously known as Innotron Memory, announced that it has started production of mainstream computer memory using a 19 nm manufacturing technology.
The company claims it has completed its Fab 1 and R&D facility in Hefei and that it is currently running 20,000 wafers per month.
Creating DRAM would be a big step in validating China's semiconductor ambitions, although industry observers remain suspicious on whether China can deliver DRAM at all or in a meaningful volume.
China has outlined a plan to produce homegrown memory devices, but aside from the NAND flash memory in the works at Yangtze Memory Technologies Co., Ltd. (YMTC) and NOR flash designed by GigaDevice, so far the company has had more ambition than results.
Representatives of ChangXin Memory claim that the company plans to double the capacity of the Hefei DRAM plant to 40,000 wafers per month in the second quarter of 2020. Using a 19-nm process technology, ChangXin has begun producing this fall LPDDR4, DDR4 8Gbit DRAM products. The same 19 nm technology will be used to manufacture LPDDR4X memory in the second half of 2020. The company’s technology roadmap includes 10G3 (17 nm) for DDR4, LPDDR4X, DDR5, and LPDDR5 as well as 10G5 for DDR5, LPDDR5, and GDDR6.
CXMT currently has over 3,000 employees and runs a fab with a 65,000 sqare meters cleanroom space that by the end of 2020 will have 120k wafers starts (12-inch) per month using 10 nm-class process technologies.
Several indigenous DRAM vendors in China have seen their business either stall or die. Worse, Tsinghua Unigroup’s original plans for DRAM production in Nanjing and Chengdu, for example, ended up getting exploited to jack up land prices.
ChangXin is run by Yiming Zhu, GigaDevice’s former president. It was founded in 2016 by Hefei Industrial Investment Fund and GigaDevice. Technically speaking, the company has no DRAM heritage.
ChangXin also has no association with the Tsinghua Unigroup.
China’s entry into the DRAM market has been tough so far largely for two reasons. First, China has little production experience or expertise. Second, China has not accumulated DRAM-related IP of its own.
In an interview with EETimes.com, ChangXin acknowledged that it’s been recruiting engineers from Korea and Taiwan to build its fundamental DRAM knowledge. It has also hired technical staff formerly at Qimonda. These recruits include Karl Heinz Kuesters, who signed on as a “consultant.” Kuesters worked at Qimonda/Infineon for 24 years until Nov. 2008. He was vice president of technology and pre-development at Qimonda.
Qimonda’s used the “trench capacitor” process technology, which is now regarded as an outdated DRAM technology. Hiwever, ChangXin is not using Qimonda’s old trench technology. ChangXin revealed, that it has moved into production using “stack capacitor” process technology.
Hongyu Liu, executive vice president at ChangXin, acknowledged that a tech company faces not just IP issues but also the handling of “trade secrets.”
For example, Fujian Jinhua, once viewed as the Chinese DRAM maker with a knack for ramping up yield, is currently deemed pretty much “dead.” Fujian Jinhua was accused of stealing trade secrets from Micron and later ther company was put on the entity “blacklist” by the U.S. government.
Fujian Jinhua used to recruit in Taiwan DRAM engineers, mainly from Micron and Nanya. Soon some of those workers were accused of taking trade-secrets with them. So even before the Trump administration, the Taiwan government had complied with a U.S. order to shut down Jinhua Taiwan.”
In the interview, Liu refrained from talking about any definite agreements with IP holders. However, she mentioned WiLAN, a widely known patent troll, now owner of many Qimonda’s patents. WiLAN could be one of the companies with whom ChangXin is negotiating.