Culture & People

Behind-the-scenes Story of “HBM2E”, the Fastest DRAM in History

By July 23, 2020 July 30th, 2020 No Comments

DRAM has been developed intensively towards ultra-high speed, high capacity, and low power. Among these goals, the vital factor for DRAM is definitely “speed”. That is why the title of “fastest” is very important in the memory industry. On July 2, SK hynix announced the full-scale mass-production of “HBM2E”, which is the world’s fastest DRAM, opening the door to the premium memory market.

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The world’s fastest “HBM2E” is not definitely a coincidence. In 2013, SK hynix succeeded in developing a high bandwidth memory (HBM) for the first time in the industry by applying through silicon via (TSV) technology to DRAM. SK hynix has set a new milestone in DRAM history by dramatically increasing the processing speed through HBM. Since then, SK hynix continued to develop and has started the full-scale mass-production of HBM2E, only ten months after the Company announced the development of the new product in August last year.

SK hynix’s HBM2E supports over 460GB (Gigabyte) per second with 1,024 I/Os (Inputs/Outputs) based on the 3.6Gbps (gigabits-per-second) speed performance per pin. It is the fastest DRAM solution in the industry, being able to transmit 124 FHD (full-HD) movies (3.7GB each) per second. The density is 16GB by vertically stacking eight 16Gb chips through TSV (Through Silicon Via) technology, and it is more than doubled from the previous generation (HBM2).

One Step beyond the HBM2, Industry’s Fastest DRAM

From the birth and development of HBM to the current HBM2E, there is IPM Planning Team under DRAM Product Planning who was involved in all processes and have poured their sweat and passion into them.

(From left) Technical Leader (TL) Yeon Seung Jung, TL Jungsoo Park, TL Younsoo Kim, TL Changyong Ahn, Project Leader (PL) Wangsu Kim, TL Hyunmin Lee, TL Eunji An at IPM Planning Team

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Q. What is the role of Product Planning in the semiconductor development process?

Project Leader (PL) Wangsu Kim It proactively predicts the technological changes of the semiconductor industry and verify it through various external activities and communication with customers. Then, it proposes product specifications, such as characteristics and development schedule of products to derive company-wide consensus on the product development lineup. In other words, we work on planning how to commercialize products required for customers.

▲ PL Wangsu Kim

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Q. What was the background of planning HBM2E?

Technical Leader (TL) Younsoo Kim Although SK hynix developed HBM for the first time in the world, it didn’t maintain its leadership in following generations. That’s why all team members were so determined to raise the product specifications when planning the HBM2E. HBM2E is a product between HBM2 and HBM3, and was designed for faster speed, higher capacity, and lower power than HBM2. HBM2E has recently begun the mass-production and is receiving a good response in the market, which makes us feel very proud.

▲ TL Younsoo Kim

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Q. HBM2E is the industry’s fastest DRAM that supports over 460 GB per second based on the 3.6 Gbps speed performance per pin. It also supports a large capacity of 16 GB, which is more than doubled from the previous generation. What was the key to achieving this high level of performance?

TL Younsoo Kim To explain it more precisely, the explanation of HBM should come first. The reason why HBM could achieve higher performance than the existing DRAM is that the structure for exchanging the data between chips has been fundamentally changed. TSV technology stacks multiple DRAM chips vertically and creates column-shaped paths that penetrate the entire silicon wafer thickness to deliver commands and data. In the previous structure, wires for signal transmission had to be structured long. This means that the new technology allows the length of the wire to become shorter, which enables faster transmission and lowers the probability of missing any signals.

TL Hyunmin Lee A high-level micro-process technology was necessary for realizing the world’s best performance product. There were many hurdles in the early stage of development, but after a lot of discussions, we could select and apply the essential technology for HBM2E. Because all departments worked hard together, we could succeed in mass-production of the best performance product that outstrips the industry.

Q. What products is HBM2E equipped in and what fields do you expect it to be utilized in?

TL Jungsoo Park HBM belongs to the premium product line. It is a memory solution optimized for high-performance computing (HPC), supercomputers, and artificial intelligence (AI) which all require high-level computing performance. In addition, the demand for HBM is expected to rise further, as the 5G era, where the data transmission volume is rapidly increasing, arrives.

Communication with Customers as “First Mover’, not “Fast Follower”

It is important to develop the “best” technology “for the first time”, but above all, it eventually becomes meaningful only when it meets the market’s needs. It takes a long time from development to mass-production, but it is essential to take time for discussing future technologies with customers beforehand. To achieve this, IPM Planning Team should closely communicate with customers.

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Q. What were the trials and errors during the development process? What was the secret to overcoming the challenges?

PL Wangsu Kim Since HBM is a semi-finished product, it cannot be operated independently. This is the reason why a process to mount it on customers’ systems is required to verify that there’s no problem in operation. We expected that this product verification process would take about three to six months, but it actually took almost a year due to many variables appearing. It was due to the lack of experience. Based on this experience, all members worked hard together aiming for higher specifications in HBM2E. Therefore, the company could start the mass-production of it only after a short time.

▲ TL Eunji An

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Q. PL Kim mentioned that communication with customers is important. How do you work for this?

TL Eunji An The biggest role of my team is to understand the needs of customers and market, and to plan products that meet those needs. Even if we make a product with a performance of 100%, it is meaningful only when customers need that level of performance. Before planning a product, we take time to discuss with customers specifically what kind of performance is needed and when to supply it. As all this is about the future, there are different opinions sometimes, in terms of supply and demand. When this happens, we try to find a compromise by explaining internal opinions to customers and vice versa. It’s never easy to coordinate internal and external opinions, but it’s dynamic and enjoyable.

Q. Were there any troubles when coordinating opinions with customers? How was the reaction of them?

PL Wangsu Kim When a defect of the product is found during the verification process, we revealed it to customers to find a solution together, rather than just trying to solve it internally. Being proactive as a “first mover” instead of “fast follower” led to good results. We were able to reflect customers’ requests in a short time and reached an agreement by immediately conveying the limitations that arise during the development to the customers. I think these great results were from smooth internal and external communication.

HBM2E Becomes the Core of 4th Industrial Revolution

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Q. What does HBM2E mean for SK hynix?

TL Hyunmin Lee When you launch a product, you see the size or the prospect of the market. HBM2E is a product that sees the latter. Its main applications are the 4th industrial revolution’s key industries such as supercomputers, AI, and 5G networks. Since it is a high-performance product, we can’t say that the market size is large yet, but it can be said that it is a very promising product when considering the growth potential of such industries.

TL Younsoo Kim “World’s best” is not just flowery words, but a truth. As SK hynix’s identity “Technology Innovator for a Better World” suggests, I think the fact that it succeeded in mass-producing the world’s fastest DRAM raised its self-esteem to the next level, as a technology company.

Q. What is the next step of SK hynix that is continuously innovating technologies for the first and the best? Please tell us about SK hynix’s future plans and goals.

PL Wangsu Kim Based on the success of HBM2E, it is now time to move on to HBM3. Currently, the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC), which is an international semiconductor standardization organization, is discussing to establish the standards for HBM3 products. All employees of SK hynix, including Product Planning, are making great efforts so that SK hynix’s HBM3 can become a leading product in the industry like HBM2E. Based on the support of many people, I believe that SK hynix will be able to produce the world’s best HBM product once again.


1HBM2E: An extended version of the 2nd generation HBM