Like $3.5 billion serious—Intel has announced that it is converting one of its China plants to make NAND chips, the semiconductor hardware found in solid state drives. The company’s factory in Dalian, China which opened in 2010 for making CPUs two process generations behind Intel’s other plants, will undergo a conversion process starting immediately.
Of course, Intel already has SSDs on the market, its 535 Series SATA drives and 750 Series PCle are strong performers among their categories. The NAND chips inside these drives come from Micron. This move should reduce Intel’s dependence on outside manufacturers for memory, since it can produce NAND chips in-house. Experts are predicting this will have a significant impact on Micron’s business as Intel is a major client for memory chip manufacturer.
Earlier this year, Intel and Micron announced newly-developed 3D NAND technology, a large-capacity and high-density fab production similar to the chips found in the popular Samsung 850 EVO line of SSD. This summer the partnership also yielded a new variant of NAND memory the companies call 3D XPoint, which promises non-volatile memory speeds up to 1,000 times faster than flash memory currently on the market. Anticipated applications of the new kind of memory range from machine learning, real-time tracking of diseases, immersive 8K gaming, and fraud detection—likely deployed in flash arrays and large scale workstations.
Expect to see products using 3D NAND and 3D XPoint at some point in 2016. Intel’s plan is to produce 3D NAND in Dalian in the second half of that year. Intel’s relationship with Micron is by no means over; Intel calls the Dalian facility part of its “multi-source supply strategy,” which it is deploying to make a run in the SSD market.
Samsung is the dominant force in solid-state drives, owning nearly 45 percent of the market share. Intel hovers around 10 percent, but recent aggressive moves have them on the radar of some market experts who are predicting Intel to overtake Samsung in 2016. Personally, I think this is unattainable in such a short time, but depending on the products Intel brings to market, it can pick up serious momentum in the coming year. This, along with the recent WD acquisition of SanDisk, makes the SSD landscape very interesting to watch in 2016.