“We see ourselves in the 2-year horizon for production volumes of our first product, a 64-gigabit storage-class memory,” said Unity Semiconductor Chairman, President & CEO Darrell Rinerson, a former executive at memory leader Micron Technology (NASDAQ: MU) and at Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD). Unity Semiconductor, founded in 2002, has successfully created the world’s first passive rewritable cross-point memory array that requires no transistors in a memory cell. Unity Semiconductor has been processing 64-kilobit products for 2 years, 64-megabit products for 1 year, and is in design of a 64-Gb product that is now close to tape-out and slated for pilot production in 2H 2010, with volume production in 2Q 2011.
Unity Semiconductor is not just looking to develop a NAND flash replacement technology for all the important high-density memory segments. Rather, it also will develop and produce NAND flash “successor” technologies and products that, in time, will extend into high-performance embedded and enterprise applications. “It’s a ‘Technology for Terabits’ that will challenge high-volume rotating magnetic media,” Rinerson stated.
Unity Semiconductor will serve the data storage market as a designer, developer and manufacturer of non-volatile memory products that it will produce in partnership with one or more leading memory integrated device manufacturers (IDMs). In addition to being a products company, Unity Semiconductor will engage in selective intellectual property (IP) licensing.
“Storage-Class Memories (SCM) are currently defined as either memory-based (non-volatile RAM) or storage-centric. CMOxTM is the first true storage-class memory that meets the performance criteria required for advanced storage. As the first cross-point storage device, CMOxTM is capable of being scaled below 20 nanometers with a volumetric density better than 4bits/cell NAND. It uses less than 1 microamp of write current per cell, has a 10x write performance and better endurance compared to NAND, and at a much lower cost,” stated Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research, Monterey, CA.
Based on forecasts from market researchers, Unity believes the total accessible market (TAM) for its storage class non-volatile memory products will be approximately $15B in 2010, growing to more than $25B in 2013.
The start-up’s value proposition to its target market stems from its proprietary next-generation NVM technology, CMOxTM. The price/performance of Unity’s CMOxTM based storage-class memory products will allow Unity to initially target the high-performance NAND flash replacement market. However, CMOxTM is designed to address the emerging markets, such as solid-state drives (SSDs) for notebook PCs and netbooks, mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and smart phones, for which some market forecasters believe over 90% will have embedded flash by 2012.
CMOxTM is a next-generation NVM technology based upon a Unity-proprietary switching effect that occurs in certain metal oxide combinations. The switching concept used by Unity in CMOxTM is different from that used in today’s flash technology. The memory effect of CMOxTM technology is based upon the movement of ionic charge carriers. CMOxTM can be utilized to form a passive cross-point multi-layer memory array, as it does not require a transistor per cell. Other memory technologies, such as phase-change memory (PCM) and magneto-resistive random access memory (MRAM), use a transistor per cell and are not amenable to the cross-point multi-layer chip architecture.
Unity Semiconductor’s multi-layer cross-point array utilizes a resistance change element (although it’s not a Resistive RAM (RRAM) memory cell such as is being developed by a few other companies). Rather, in the CMOxTM technology, conduction is uniform across the device instead of being filamentary. The cross-point memory array architecture allows for the densest memory devices of all the next-generation NVM technologies. Further, it enables the physical stacking of multiple layers of memory. Unity Semiconductor’s CMOxTM based designs use 4 physical layers of multi-level cell (MLC) memory, and is the key to increasing the density of its storage-class memory products. A proprietary next-generation nonvolatile memory technology, CMOxTM will yield products with 4x the density and 5-10x the write speed of today’s NAND flash. “We believe only CMOxTM has the small cell size to beat NAND flash in cost and density,” Rinerson stated.
In addition to its technical innovations, Unity Semiconductor has
several unique business concepts. Key among these is the separation of
the processing of the front-end-of-line (FEOL) CMOS base wafer from the
back-end-of-line (BEOL) memory layer processing. No new process
technology is needed in the CMOS base wafer, which can be fabricated at
a CMOS logic foundry with existing production capability and capacity on
a trailing edge CMOS (90 nm) process.