In general, Chinese chip makers have struggled to compete well against established players, but there are some exceptions. YMTC (Yangtze Memory Technology Co.) is probably the most widely known 3D NAND memory manufacturer and has successfully competed with well-known manufacturers. However, to be competitive, new york times reports that YMTC received support from an unexpected ally, Apple.
Apple helped the YMTC recruit engineers from established Western companies, boosting YMTC’s yields and productivity, according to a NYT report citing three people familiar with the matter. So far, neither Apple nor he YMTC have confirmed or denied this information, but the California-based consumer electronics giant is known to help manufacturing partners build their businesses.
YMTC’s 3D NAND devices use the company’s proprietary Xtacking architecture. It consists of two separate wafers bonded together to build an ultra-dense and ultra-fast flash memory device that can best power his SSD.
Xtacking leverages the most efficient 3D NAND process technology YMTC can design to manufacture NAND memory arrays using a single wafer. A second wafer will then be used for various peripheral logic made on the company’s most efficient logic process technology. When memory arrays and logic are connected using metal TSVs (via silicon vias), the resulting NAND can offer the best of both worlds: ultra-dense memory arrays and very fast interfaces.
YMTC’s competitors manufacture memory arrays and peripheral logic on the same wafer, making it difficult to push interface speeds to the limit. As a result, the performance of client-grade PCIe 5.0 x4 SSDs is limited.
Making 3D NAND the way YMTC does is slightly more difficult than making memory using the traditional methods employed by Kioxia, Western Digital, Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron. YMTC’s 3D NAND had problems with low yields and slow ramp-ups (according to media reports), so Apple seems to have helped the Chinese firm hire engineers from reputable manufacturers to fix the problem. .
Diversifying supply is important for Apple, which uses 3D NAND in the majority of its products, as it helps them get better prices from each manufacturer. Helping YMTC scale production means more 3D NAND devices to choose from at lower prices. Meanwhile, now that the US government has imposed tough sanctions on China’s semiconductor and supercomputer industries, it seems Apple has no plans to use his 3D NAND from YMTC, even in products sold in China.
The YMTC became widely known to the general public after being placed on the US Department of Commerce’s Unidentified List in early October. His UVL in the US DoC includes entities whose bona fide users (end-users) could not be satisfactorily identified “for reasons outside the control of the US government.” The DoC may include the company on the Entity List if the YMTC cannot demonstrate to the DoC that its memory has not been used by the Chinese military or security forces within 60 days of its listing on the list. This would require the US company to obtain a special export license to sell its products to his YMTC.
On the other hand, four major manufacturers of wafer manufacturing equipment have already terminated transactions with YMTC for the following reasons. Latest Export Regulations imposed by the U.S. government in October. We have reached out to Apple and his YMTC for comment and will update when we have more information.