Google, Intel Prep 48V Servers

1/21/2016 00:01 AM EST

Rick Merritt

Intel-approachSANTA CLARA, Calif. — Google is calling for 48-volt motherboards to cut wasted power in data center servers, a concept Intel already has prototyped seeking industry feedback. The news emerged from representatives of the companies and their power component vendors in a panel at DesignCon here.

Today’s servers generally use 12V power supplies but are stuck at efficiency levels of about 84% as processors drive ever higher power demands. “The short term solution has been to make regulators 101% efficient, but that isn’t going to work anymore,” said Dave Dwelley, a product line manager at Linear Technology.

Dwelley said the industry is coming to the end of an era of discrete voltage regulators. He called for greater integration of the function closer to the points of the power load.

Today’s 12V motherboards have been around for 20 years, said Neil O’Sullivan, a power group manager at Google. Since that time, processors have ratcheted up their power consumption with multicore chips trying to compensate for the end of Denard scaling, he said.

Telecom systems have been using 48V parts for many years, providing an ecosystem that servers can tap, O’Sullivan said. The smaller connectors can enable denser board designs, albeit they will create challenges for the CPU, he added.

“I can’t emphasize enough that we won’t put voltage regulators close to the processor because they are too noisy – it’s like having a Rottweiler on a chain and you don’t know how long the chain is,” said David Figueroa, director of enterprise power solutions at Intel.

Intel’s current prototype board uses 48V for the main power rails and 12V for secondary ones, seeking feedback from big data center operators such as Google. “We understand the board down to the circuit level, but when it comes to the data center rack we are not the leading experts,” said Figueroa.

Vicor has been selling for a decade a 48V regulator for large graphics chips and DSPs, said Robert Gendon, a vice president at Vicor. Today’s parts use a 3D package suitable for placing near a processor socket, and a future version will use an even denser package that could be placed under the socket, he said.

“Ideally in the future we will place the converter in the CPU package,” Gendon said.

All sides agreed putting voltage regulation into the processor package was a long term goal. But at the 48V level it raises Vicro-approachissues with dielectric materials that require new packaging techniques, said Figueroa of Intel.

The panel also agreed it makes sense to support both 48 and 12V rails for a time, given a number of server peripherals operate at 12V optimally today. They debated whether the secondary power level could be scaled to 5V or below for further benefits.


SK Hynix to Get Over Low-growth Crisis with 10-NM DRAM

21 January 2016 – 12:00pm
Cho Jin-young

SK hynix President Park Sung-wook has declared the company will get over the crisis in the memory semiconductor market with new high-tech products such as 10-nano DRAMs and 48-layer 3D NAND flash chips. By strengthening its weak competence in system semiconductors, the company is planning to take the lead in the semiconductor industry, which is overshadowed by a decrease in global memory chip demand and the rise of Chinese memory chip makers.

Park said in his New Year’s message on Jan. 20, “Due to global economic uncertainties such as slow growth in memory chip demand and China’s efforts to promote its memory chip industry, the market conditions this year are tough. We will turn a crisis into an opportunity in 2016 by improving our competitiveness.”

He added, “SK hynix has the strength to break through the game of chicken in the memory chip sector in the last decade.”

According to market research firm IDC, the global DRAM market this year will shrink from US$45.7 billion (55.59 trillion won) to US$38.8 billion (47.2 trillion won), while the global NAND flash market will reduce from US$29.1 billion (35.4 trillion won) to US$26.2 billion (31.87 trillion won) during the same period.

Park said the main goal to overcome the market crisis is to strengthen competitiveness. The company plans to increase mass production of 20-nano class DRAM first and finish the development of 10-nano class DRAM by the end of this year. Moreover, it aims to mass produce 48-layer 3D NAND flash chips, which are currently mass produced only by Samsung Electronics, within the year, and jump into the top class in the NAND flash chip market by beating its competitors, including Toshiba.

In addition, SK hynix will accelerate the technology development of next-generation memory chip products after system semiconductors, DRAM and NAND flash chips this year, said Park. The company is planning to solidify its position as a leading total semiconductor firm by expanding its business structure, which is currently focusing on memory chips, to system semiconductors.

3-bit, multi-level-cell 3D NAND flash memory chips

Competition in 3D NAND Flash Memory Market is Heating Up

15 January 2016 Cho Jin-young

Toshiba invests at least 500 billion yen in order to set foot in the 3D NAND flash market and its manufacturing facilities for the same purpose are put into operation in 2017 in Yokkaichi, Japan with SanDisk acting as a partner. Next-generation NAND flash memories for use in smart phones, data centers and the like are to be produced there.

As of the end of the third quarter of last year, Toshiba and SanDisk ranked second and third in global NAND flash market share, accounting for 20.5% and 15.4%, respectively. Their combined market share exceeds that of Samsung Electronics by a margin of 4.4 percentage points. The competition between the two sides is likely to become even more intense once the manufacturing facilities in Japan begin to be run.

In the meantime, it is said that Samsung Electronics, which produced 3D NAND flash memories for the first time in the industry, is planning on facility expansion with its plant located in Xi’an, China operating at full capacity. According to industry sources, more 3D NAND equipment are likely to be placed at the remaining sites in the plant from this year. At present, the factory’s monthly production capacity is equivalent to 100,000 wafer sheets.

Intel is expected to manufacture 3D NAND flash memories in Dalian, China from the second half of this year. Its plant in the region, which has been in operation since 2010, is a fab based on 64-nano technology, a couple of generations behind the latest technology. Intel is going to invest up to US$5.5 billion there for the mass production of 3D NAND flash memories and 3D crosspoint SSDs.

The demand for 3D NAND flash memories is predicted to soar from this year as their scope of utilization is expanded from servers and SSDs to micro SD cards, smart phones, tablet PCs, laptops, etc. Toshiba and Intel are expected to be able to boost their production capacity to 200% to 300% of that of Samsung Electronics in Xi’an by next year with 3D NAND emerging as a new standard in the industry.