Samsung is looking to capitalize on its deep and varied revenue sources and intends to double-down on memory technology investments for the future. The company recently announced that it won't be reducing its capital expenditure on new memory technologies, including GDDR7 that will ultimately end up in the best graphics cards of the future and ultra-high-layer V-NAND for the best SSDs. Nor is it looking to reduce manufacturing, despite the slowing market conditions.
The company is confident that its spending plans are necessary to ensure technological dominance over its competitors, while cementing its position as the leading memory chip manufacturer. To do so, Samsung is betting on next-generation fabrication processes that will allow for scaling memory density in DRAM, VRAM, and the latest, densest NAND that can power the data-intensive workloads of the future.
In the DRAM field, the company announced that its latest, fifth-generation 10-nm class manufacturing (1b) will start pushing out volume chips by 2023. Exploratory research is being done in sub-10nm DRAM manufacturing employing new patterning, materials and architectural designs that include High-K gates. Samsung is leagues ahead of most of its rivals, which generally manufacture DRAM chips on 14nm class nodes.
Samsung's next-generation GDDR7 memory, which is sure to grace future graphics accelerators, is already in production. It offers speeds up to 36 Gbps, a doubling over GDDR6's 18 Gbps. At those data rates, a 384-bit memory bus would be able to deliver around 1.728 TB/s bandwidth — a large increase from the upcoming RTX 4090's 1 TB/s bandwidth. This will ensure GPU manufacturers have an adequate reservoir of bandwidth left without having to increase bus widths, as that would lead to more expensive PCBs and potentially and even worse impact on pricing.
As for NAND, where Samsung stands as the undisputed king of the hill, the company is now designing and prototyping its 9th and 10th generation V-NAND, with appropriate increases in layer density compared to the technology of today. Samsung is now shipping its 7th generation 176-layer V-NAND, with plans to release V-NAND chips based on its 8th generation 230-layer design by the end of the year. The latter will offer a 42% density increase with 512 Gb chips.
But Samsung is eyeing even more significant jumps in density, and expects to achieve a 1,000-layer V-NAND design by 2030. Samsung also continues to work on QLC (Quad-Level Cell) tech, hoping to boost performance while also increasing storage bit density.
“Even if the current situation is not good, we won’t change the course we have already charted,” said Han Jin-man, executive vice president and head of Samsung’s global memory sales and marketing division. “No one at Samsung is talking about cutting chip production for now.”
Several other memory manufacturers have announced cuts to their memory production in response to slowing demand, a situation that's partly attributable to the general macroeconomic situation. The slowing demand has already led to an oversupply in the memory market, which has been described by Micron's CEO as "unprecedented," leading the company to reduce capital spending in fiscal 2023 by more than 30% (about $8 billion), with a further 50% cut in spending on wafer-fab equipment.
In Japan, Kioxia also announced a 30% reduction in memory wafer output in hopes that it will be enough for stockpiled inventory to be absorbed. Both companies are attempting to reverse the downward pressure on NAND pricing, which has taken a beating throughout 2022 with more reductions on the horizon before the end of the year.
Samsung in contrast is choosing to double-down on its technology leadership even as its competitors are playing the safe game by reducing their output. To be fair, Samsung's multiple divisions and revenue streams somewhat shield it from cyclical market and demand conditions, so it's more of a case of who can do it rather than simply, blindly staying course. Samsung may end up helping DIY enthusiasts, thanks to its apparent refusal to lower manufacturing output. The company also believes that it can widen the technological gap with its competitors by staying the course on its investment roadmap.
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Francisco Pires is a freelance news writer for Tom's Hardware with a soft side for quantum computing.