China’s biggest chipmaker takes on Samsung with 128-layer QLC NAND

China’s semiconductor industry is gearing up to take on established industry players, especially Samsung. YMTC has come up with a NAND chip that will offer comparable qualities at a potentially lower price.
For Samsung, the semiconductor business has been doing so well as of late that investors are no longer concerned about the downturn in smartphone sales. The South Korean tech giant announced better-than-expected Q1 2020 earnings guidance earlier this month, mostly hinging on strong memory chip sales.

We also know that Samsung is pouring exorbitant amounts of money into upgrading its NAND factories in China, with the ultimate goal of fighting the local competition, namely Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. and the Wuhan Xinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Recently, YMTC announced that it has finished the verification stage for its 128-layer QLC 3D NAND chip, the X2-6070. The naming choice is odd, but we’re talking about a 1.33 Tb fitting inside a single NAND die – for reference, Samsung’s sixth-generation V-NAND chips come in capacities of 256 Gb and 512 Gb. The only other company that has built 1.33 Tb NAND chips is Toshiba.

The new X2-6070 chip is based on the second-generation Xtacking architecture, which can deliver 1.6Gbps I/O speeds while using 1.2 V Vccq. Samsung and Toshiba NAND chips can achieve similar power efficiency but lower I/O speeds, so this is an area where the YMTC solution shines. Delivering half the speed of a standard DDR4 DRAM chip is an impressive feat for a NAND chip.

YMTC is also planning to make a 128-layer TLC NAND 512Gb chip that can deliver similar speeds and will be better suited for applications where latency is key. There’s no indication about when mass production will start, possibly due to the fact that YMTC will use its Wuhan factory, which was re-opened on April 10.

The company is part of the Tsinghua Unigroup, which backed by the Chinese government and is currently the largest chipmaker in the country. Notable partners that use YMTC’s NAND chips are Silicon Motion and Lite-On Technology.

The NAND market is currently split between giants like Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron, and Kioxia (formerly Toshiba). Now that YMTC is making advanced NAND flash memory chips, the result could be lower prices for consumers – something that looked unlikely a year ago.