Micron is following through with the next step in the breakup of their long alliance with Intel for storage technology. As announced last October, Micron is exercising their call option to buyout Intel’s share of IM Flash Technologies, the joint venture in Lehi, UT where several generations of flash memory were developed and the current center of R&D and production for 3D XPoint memory.
The public acts of the Intel/Micron breakup began a year ago with the announcement that the two companies would no longer co-develop NAND flash memory, going their separate ways after the completion of R&D for their 96-layer design. The companies have for several years been manufacturing their own supplies of NAND flash each at their own fabs, and they have rather different priorities so that part of the split is neither surprising nor will it have a huge impact on the storage market in the short term. Several months later, they announced a similar split for 3D XPoint memory development. With 3D XPoint R&D for the two companies set to diverge, it is natural that they would not continue to share the IMFT fab. Since IMFT is the only place currently manufacturing 3D XPoint, Micron’s buyout of Intel’s 49% stake in IMFT will likely force Intel to buy 3D XPoint memory from Micron until Intel can spin up production elsewhere.
Intel and Micron are expecting to wrap up development of their second generation of 3D XPoint memory in the first half of this year. Neither company has provided any updates on this recently, and Intel has continued to announce new Optane products using their first-generation 3D XPoint. Micron has yet to publicly announce any 3D XPoint products, though they have announced that such products will be under their QuantX brand.
Though their intentions have been public for months, Micron could not actually exercise their call option until the beginning of 2019. Intel now has the option of postponing the closing of Micron’s purchase for up to one year from today, and Micron doesn’t expect the deal to be finalized for at least six months. Micron expects to pay about $1.5 billion for Intel’s stake in IMFT. Intel has issued a statement reiterating their earlier statement that today’s action from Micron was expected and that Intel has been planning for this for some time. They have not yet disclosed when or where they expect to begin manufacturing 3D XPoint at one of their own fabs, but in the meantime Intel maintains that their plans to continue expanding the Optane product family will continue uninterrupted.