Micron, maker of DRAM, NAND flash, and the industry's first new memory technology in the modern era -- 3D XPoint -- held an earnings call today. We were there and have some industry news to report.
Even though competitors Samsung, Toshiba and SK Hynix are shipping 3-bit per cell (TLC) flash, Micron still has high demand for 16nm and 20nm MLC flash. On the call, Micron stated it would ship TLC products this quarter (Q4 2015). This comes sooner than we expected after reporting from Computex that 16nm TLC would most likely ship in Q1 2016.
Micron calls current NAND market pricing "a bloodbath" but didn't divulge many details. It's not hard to figure out that Samsung has run the SSD market over with low-cost TLC shipping in products like the Samsung 850 EVO. Consumers see the 850 EVO as a high-performance client SSD that sells for mainstream prices. It sounds like Micron no longer sees 16nm MLC as a viable competitor to Samsung, Toshiba, and SK Hynix TLC.
Micron talked briefly about upcoming 3D NAND flash. By the end of 2017, 3D flash will ship in higher volume than the company's 2D NAND flash products. 3D flash will ship in the first half of 2017. Micron will release both MLC and TLC in 3D, but the company didn't give a timetable for the two distinctive products. Both 20nm DRAM and 3D NAND are ahead of schedule, though.
3D XPoint was covered less than 3D on the call, and we didn't learn anything new other than a reference to 8K gaming. Micron was still bullish on 3D XPoint first entering the gaming market. If you recall, this is a non-volatile memory product that offers the speed of DRAM at prices closer to NAND. 8K video gaming is a very specific mention that leads us to really wonder if the first iteration of 3D XPoint will be as storage-specific as we first thought (such as SSDs). Micron sells DRAM memory to graphics card makers already. I'm betting my money on virtual reality (VR) products that will require large amounts of data that can be accessed at very high speeds to deliver a positive user experience. The 3D XPoint end product mystery continues.
Other applications that will benefit from the technology in 2017, according to Micron, are super high-end enterprise storage, medical imaging and low latency dependent databases. All of these applications could come from traditional storage connection methods with NVMe over PCIe being the most logical.
Both 3D NAND flash and 3D Xpoint will be manufactured in Singapore, where Micron will invest six to eight million dollars for expansion. The company has recently invested #1.85 billion USD in equipment costs this quarter.