Intel and Micron open joint NAND flash fab ahead of schedule

The joint venture in Singapore will make memory chips for tablets and mobile phones

Intel and Micron Technology opened a US$3 billion factory to make NAND flash memory in Singapore on Thursday, Intel officials said.

The companies at first delayed their original plans for the factory because of the global financial crisis and volatility in memory prices, but rescheduled it in 2010. The factory went online a month ahead of the schedule set last year as things fell into place smoothly after that, the companies said.

The factory, planned since 2006, will make a few thousand wafers per week at first, rising to around 25,000 wafers per week within the next year or two, said Thomas Rampone, vice president of Intel's non-volatile memory solutions group. Each wafer can contain many flash memory chips.

Micron and Intel already run two joint-venture factories in the U.S., and will sell the chips from the new factory to manufacturers of mobile devices as the market for those grows.

Intel will make 18 percent of the chips at the Singapore plant, compared to Micron's 82 percent, went into the venture as it sees "increasing value" in the use of flash in small devices for customers concerned about battery life, Rampone said.

"Flash is really mission-critical for those devices," he said. "You can't develop a mobile phone without flash."

Flash memory is used in digital cameras, MP3 players and, increasingly, in tablets and netbooks. The chips can store data even when power is switched off.

The Singapore plant will make those chips on 300-millimeter wafers using a 25-nanometer production process at first, and a 20-nanometer process by year's end. The newer production process will allow the factory to etch smaller circuit elements, packing more of them into the same space on each chip or making chips with the same functions smaller.

The two U.S. companies chose to site the factory in Singapore for its talent pool, proximity to the supply chain and stable sources of water and power, Intel said.

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