Korea's DRAM technology is 5 years ahead of China

The Export-Import Bank of Korea's Overseas Economic Research Institute (OERI) estimates that South Korea is five years ahead of China in DRAM technology and two years ahead in NAND flash memory.

This year, Chinese DRAM maker Changxin Storage is pushing for mass production of second-generation 10nm-class (1y or 16nm to 17nm) DRAM, the research institute said on May 30. On the other hand, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are planning to mass-produce fifth-generation 10nm class (1b or 12nm to 13nm) DRAM by the end of this year or next year. Considering that the technology gap for each generation is about two to two and a half years, the technology gap between the two countries is more than five years. 

In particular, Samsung and SK Hynix have introduced, or are planning to introduce, extreme ultraviolet (EUV) equipment for ultra-micro manufacturing processes, but since it is difficult for Chinese companies to introduce EUV equipment, many experts say that China needs to shrink The technological gap with South Korea is not easy.

Yields for Chinese chipmakers are also low. OERI analyzed that Changxin Storage, which started mass production of the first-generation 10nm-class (1x or 18nm to 19nm) DRAM in 2019, is still struggling with a yield rate of around 75% even after two years have passed. It is understood that the yield rate of its second-generation DRAM is also around 40%. Analysts said that Changxin Storage's DRAM market share was less than 1% by the end of last year, and there will be no sharp rebound.

In terms of NAND flash memory, the agency estimates that the technology gap between China and South Korea is about two years. Chinese storage semiconductor company Yangtze Memory began mass production of its sixth-generation (128-layer) 3D NAND flash memory in August 2021, which Samsung and SK Hynix have been mass producing since 2019. The South Korean company plans to mass-produce more than 200 layers of NAND flash memory from the end of this year to early next year, but YMTC is not expected to do so until 2024.

One variable, however, is that Apple is currently considering using YMTC's NAND flash memory in the iPhone. In this case, YMTC is expected to vigorously pursue South Korean chipmakers by expanding investment. In particular, the field of NAND flash memory is a growing industry, unlike the DRAM industry, so there are many variables. Experts say that if five or six NAND flash companies rapidly expand production capacity, there will be price competition, which could change the ranking of NAND flash market share.

In addition, the agency also said that South Korea is about five years ahead of China in foundry technology . Currently, South Korea's Samsung Electronics and Taiwan's TSMC are mass-producing 4- to 5-nanometer chips. On the other hand, China's SMIC is at the 14nm level, two to three generations behind.

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