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[How much do you know about flash memory?] The Beginning of Flash Memory No.1’s History

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Past the age of voice- and text-based data communications, as the era of increased data accumulation, 5G distribution and big data has begun, mass storage devices are becoming increasingly important. Within these trends of the 4th Industrial Age, it is only natural for flash memory to play a huge part.
*2003-2019 IHS Markit data: NAND suppliers' revenue market share.
*2003-2019 IHS Markit data: NAND suppliers' revenue market share.

*2003-2019 IHS Markit data: NAND suppliers’ revenue market share.

In 2002, Samsung Electronics became the world’s top company in the flash memory category. Due to the excellent performance and quality of their products and solutions, they have taken the lead and become the “No. 1 Flash Memory” company for 18 consecutive years. In 2002, the company ranked 1st in the world in its market share of flash memory with the world’s first mass production of 1GB NAND flash. Then, in 2013, with the world’s first mass production of 3D V-NAND flash, the company made history yet again. Challenging limits to make opportunity! Going beyond the limits in scaling to be the world’s first to open the age of 3D semiconductors
▲ 삼성전자의 1Gb 낸드 플래시(왼쪽), 2Gb 낸드 플래시(오른쪽)
▲ 삼성전자의 1Gb 낸드 플래시(왼쪽), 2Gb 낸드 플래시(오른쪽)

▲ Samsung Electronics’ 1GB NAND Flash (on left), 2GB NAND Flash (on right)

In the 1990s, Samsung Electronics had been strengthening their market power in the DRAM memory market with advanced technology. In the 2000s, they began to reach milestones in the flash memory industry too. After the development of 1GB NAND flash in 1999, they continually expanded their storage by developing 2GB in 2002, 4GB in 2003, 8GB in 2004, 16GB in 2005, 32GB in 2006, and 64 GB NAND flash in 2007. Concurrently, they strengthened their footing as the leader in scaling. In 2002, they scaled their products to 90nm, 70nm in 2003, 50nm in 2005, and 40nm in 2006. And in 2007, they had done what was considered impossible with the technology back then; they succeeded in scaling their products to 30nm.
▲ 플로팅 게이트 기술과 CTF, 3D V낸드 기술 비교
▲ 플로팅 게이트 기술과 CTF, 3D V낸드 기술 비교

▲ A Comparison of the Floating Gate Technology, CTF, and 3D V-NAND Technologies

Meanwhile, in 2006, they developed the groundbreaking CTF (Charge Trap Flash) NAND Technology that jumped beyond the limits of the widely-used technology of the time, the Floating Gate Technology. This allowed the company to become the world’s first to commercialize 40nm-32GB NAND flash memory.

※CTF(Charge Trap Flash) : A technology in which 0 and 1 are identified by using nitride with many traps as the trapping layer to inject electrons in the traps. Floating gate semiconductors had been used to save data, but by replacing these with nitride, a nonconductor, crosstalk with adjacent cells is prevented.

But as scaling and expansion of mass storage continued, this CTF NAND Technology also reached its limits. Once the 128GB NAND flash with 10nm-processing was developed, the data-saving cells got smaller, the margins between cells narrower, and current leakage became an issue as interference intensified.
▲ 삼성전자가 2013년 세계최초로 양산한 3D V낸드 플래시 메모리
▲ 삼성전자가 2013년 세계최초로 양산한 3D V낸드 플래시 메모리

▲ Samsung Electronics’ World’s First Mass-Produced 3D V-NAND Flash Memory, Released in 2013

To overcome this, in August 2013, Samsung Electronics mass-produced 3D Vertical NAND and 3D V-NAND flash memory, which went beyond the scaling limits of semiconductors. This was the first time the world had witnessed a commercialization of 3D-integration technology. It signaled the end of the 2D semiconductor era and the start of the 3D memory semiconductor era. This was news that left the world astounded. Samsung Electronics’ unique technology, the “3D CTF (Charge Trap Flash) cell structure” and the “3D Vertical Process Technology” were both applied to the V-NAND. Unlike the existing 2D NAND, was better in three ways: increased speed, decreased power consumption, and stronger cell durability. Due to these improvement factors, this has allowed faster and more stable management of the electrons stored in the control gate. Unlike in a 2D flash, where cells are aligned as they mark micro-circuits horizontally, the cells, aligned horizontally, are stacked vertically in 3D. This is the product of NAND Flash Memory Technology from Samsung Electronics that broke through the limits of memory integration with their cell-structure and process innovations. This was also a key moment as they became equipped with the mass-production technology for mass-storage NAND flash, which is a leader in the era of terabytes. Samsung Electronics, the global leader in the development of the flash memory market with their unprecedented technology! One may wonder how it all began. How did the flash memory business at Samsung Electronics begin? To become the reputable No.1 in the flash memory market In July 1984, Samsung Electronics succeeded in developing the 16Kb EEPROM, which is practically the origin of flash memory. However, due to the high prices and limitations in developing mass-storage products, they decide to focus on Mask ROM with more market potential. Mask ROM was a chip used in OA devices to save texts, electronic dictionaries, the popular Game Boy, and Tamagotchi. But there was always a supply shortage as only a handful of Japanese companies produced them. With persistence, in 1989, Samsung Electronics succeed in developing Mask ROM on their own, and their profit grows to 400 million dollars. However, they soon reach a limit. The products were sourced only to limited markets, and so, they were not used widely. However, there was only one drive that got the flash memory business through the most-difficult times to see great success. It was none other than the management and the planning division with their endless hard work and research, who believed that the era of flash memory would come one day.
도쿄의 음식점 ‘자쿠로’에 모인 삼성전자 경영진
도쿄의 음식점 ‘자쿠로’에 모인 삼성전자 경영진
Fast-forward to a scorching hot day in August 2001. The Samsung Electronics management employees gather at Zakuro, a restaurant in Tokyo. There, they discuss whether they will accept the collaborative development offer from a leading company in the flash drive industry of the time or they will develop it on their own. Samsung Electronics, already having determined that flash memory will dictate the future market, has been preparing for this for some time. So, after much contemplation, they decide to go their own way instead of taking on the collaboration offer. This meeting, which is later named “the Zakuro Meeting,” is where the company decides on the direction for their flash memory business, the business that would soon rise as a groundbreaking one. The meeting also signals the start to the flash memory legend, followed by the DRAM legend. But the road to success was not easy. At the time, there was no immediate market for the product. Not only that, the NAND flash market was expected to scale down by 35%; the company was in a hurry to come up with a solution to simply get by.
▲삼성전자의 초기 USB(왼쪽)와 현재 UFD(USB Flash Drive) 메모리
▲삼성전자의 초기 USB(왼쪽)와 현재 UFD(USB Flash Drive) 메모리

▲The First Forms of Samsung Electronics’ USB (on left) and the UFD (USB Flash Drive) Memory in the Present

Samsung Electronics was not discouraged, however. Instead, they simply carried on with their market research. So, they decided to set their goal to make over 100 million sales in the PC market and to create a new market by slightly altering the existing standardized one. It was to popularize portable flash memory. Since then, the thumb-sized USB memory sticks became hugely popular, a huge factor that brought Samsung Electronics back at the top of the flash memory market after their difficult times in 2002. However, overproduction and overstock of NAND flash was expected in 2005. In reaction, the company chose the rather aggressive “If there are no markets, we will make markets” marketing strategy and founded new markets. Samsung Electronics convinced their clients on the excellence of flash memory; this was when flash memory started appearing in the music player market, where cassette tapes and disc players were the dominant products. Then, Samsung Electronics hit the jackpot in the MP3 player industry, which reaffirmed the company’s title as the leader of the flash memory market. From then on, Samsung Electronics have created the SSD market to replace hard disks and more to keep their title as the No.1 company in flash memory. The Samsung Semiconstory is a series that will feature different stories about flash memory. Next time, we will examine the SSD, something that enriched our daily lives.

[Appendix] Samsung Electronics’ Milestones in Development and Mass-Production of Flash Memory

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