David Sowards – The average data retention for an LNVM product today is 10 years, which has been an industry standard for quite some time.
7) What process technologies are currently available for LNVM? Which fabs are involved?
Charles Hsu – Process technologies include 0.5 um, 0.35 um, 0.25 um, 0.18 um, and 0.13 um. Fabs include TSMC, UMC, Chartered, VIS, SMIC, Grace, PSC, Siltera, and Winbond.
Larry Morrell – All major foundries are offering some form of OTP or MTP logic NVM. Impinj currently supports TSMC (0.25 um, 0.18 um, 0.13 um, and 90 nm), UMC (0.18 um), Tower (0.13 um). More qualification work is underway with Chartered (90 nm) and with more advanced process nodes at both TSMC and UMC.
David Sowards – LNVM is on a standard CMOS logic process and thus all the major fabs are involved. Nodes from 180 nm through 90 nm are currently available.
8) The LVNM manufacturing process requires high temps. Does this impact yield?
Charles Hsu – In eMemory's Logic NVM, no additional high-temp process is needed.
Larry Morrell – LNVM uses the standard logic CMOS processing steps. The high temperature used in the wafer manufacturing process is part of the normal processing and does not adversely affect the NVM. Impinj sees yields on par with other logic circuits of similar size. Typically yields are in the very high 90’s, percentage-wise.
David Sowards – Only in so much as standard digital CMOS requires high temps. NOVeA does not require any difference in temperature, process, masking, etc., compared to standard CMOS. As such there is no difference in NOVeA yield when compared to standard CMOS.
9) How does the growing RFID market fit into the emerging LNVM market?
Charles Hsu – RFID usually requires 1) low density, and 2) low cost. LNVM is an excellent candidate for RFID.
Larry Morrell – One of the key requirements for RFID is inexpensive re-writeable memory. All RFID chips will need this sort of memory, and since the bit count is not particularly large (a few hundred bits) LVNM is ideally suited for this application.
David Sowards – The growing RFID market is an excellent fit for LNVM. RFID requires a relatively small amount of memory, typically < 2Kb, low cost, and low power. Since LNVM can be manufactured on a standard logic process it is very cost effective and many of today’s LNVM designs are architected to provide extremely low power.
10) Can you rank in order of importance 3 or 4 other applications for LNVM?
Charles Hsu – 1) RFID; 2) MCU; 3) SOC; and 4) smart power management.
Larry Morrell – In terms of driving wafer volume, the important applications are power management, LCD display drivers, digital rights management, RF (not just RFID), and small microcontrollers for consumer applications.
David Sowards – Security and digital rights management for DVD recorders/players, set-top boxes and Flash memory controllers. ZigBee is another strong application for LNVM.
11) Statistics quoted at the October 12th panel suggested the current LNVM market stands at $75 million, predicted to grow to $100 million in 2009. Are these numbers accurate?
Charles Hsu – The numbers are not correct. eMemory alone has more than $100M USD wafer use in its LNVM in 2006.
Larry Morrell – Impinj showed a different view – replacing off-chip EE parts that are less than 4kbits in size results in a market of $300M - $400M currently. Once applications (i.e., RFID, DRM) begin to ship that aren’t yet shipping in large volume, the numbers will be much larger.
David Sowards – From our perspective, yes they are accurate.
12) If the numbers are correct, is this market still too small to generate intense interest?
Charles Hsu – Many markets exist for LNVM including MCU, RFID, analog, PMIC, and so forth. The penetration rate depends on the robustness of LNVM technology.
Larry Morrell – See above. Also, as indicated that (at last count) there are at least 10 companies now offering some form of logic NVM, many are seeing this as a good opportunity. Companies that we know of are:
David Sowards – Creating a stable and robust LNVM requires a significant investment, thus I do not foresee a lot of other vendors trying to enter this space.
13) Compare/contrast the LNVM business model to an IP business model.
Charles Hsu – The LNVM business model can be the same as IP business model, which includes licensing, royalty, and design services.
Larry Morrell – Most vendors are following the usual IP business model – i.e., licensing fee plus royalties. In some instances, the royalty is paid to the IP supplier by the chip customer and in some cases the wafer manufacturer pays the IP supplier and rolls the costs into the wafer price. License fees vary from as low as $30k for OTP to over $200k for some MTP blocks, and royalties vary from none (where the chip customer pays nothing, the foundry supplies the technology) to 3% or higher.
David Sowards – The LNVM business is part of the IP business model.
14) What would a typical LNVM patent describe? The manufacturing process? Materials? Other?
Charles Hsu – Currently, all the LNVM vendors provide the proprietary patented LNVM "cell structure."
Larry Morrell – Since LVM is based on *NOT* modifying the logic process, most of the patents are around two areas: 1) Getting the device programmed, or 2) Managing the high voltages necessary to write the data.
In the case of 1), there are patents in the OTP space describing how oxide breakdowns occur and can be carefully managed with proper high voltage pulses. In the case of MTP, the patents are around the phenomenon of hot-electron injection and Fowler-Nordhiem tunneling. Both of these phenomena have been described previously, but their application in storing charge in a logic process is somewhat new.
In the second case, managing the high voltage, there are patents in the way high-voltage devices can be constructed in a 3-Volt logic process and how a high-voltage switch can be built using these sorts of devices.
David Sowards – This will depend on the LNVM technology it is trying to address. For NOVeA, we do not allow any changes to the manufacturing process. As such our patents would not include anything on manufacturing processes or materials. Other LNVM technologies might. Ours would mainly include implementation techniques which allow our LNVM to be implemented in standard CMOS processes.
15) What are the top 3 things the readers should know about LNVM?
Charles Hsu –
1) LNVM is becoming ubiquitous due to its value added as nonvolatile memory, switch/ e-Fuse, and variable resistors.
2) LNVM enables the low-cost embedded system IC.
3) LNVM improves the yield and quality of analog and/or mixed-mode ICs.
Larry Morrell –
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.