Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - IntroductionIntroduction
Each year the always hectic and ever exciting city of Taipei plays host to Computex - The biggest computer trade show in Asia and what is considered by many as one of the most interesting and spicy shows in the world...for more reasons than one.For the second year running we were sponsored to attend the event and as you would have seen, we posted our daily coverage from the busy show floor, which I trust you would have enjoyed. Thankfully though, we didn't just post coverage - The trip was broken up into company meetings, company parties, and a lot of drinking at pubs like The Tavern
and we can't forget factory tours - in particular tours of Kingmax
.In the past we have done tours with companies like TSMC (a company which produces chips for fabless companies like VIA and so on) and Abit, but I particularly enjoyed the tours of Kingmax and Kingpak because both were more laid back which made it more relaxing and enjoyable. It was a very personalized tour - being the only person from the media on it may have had something to do with that.Very early on the first day of our trip Ken Barsley from Kingmax Australia, Mos Chou from Kingmax Taiwan and myself made the hour long drive from down town Taipei to Shin Chu. This highly industrialized area is where both the Kingmax and Kingpak fabs are based, as well as many other company factories which have not yet moved to the new Taipei "Silicon Valley" area, like may have done already or have plans on doing so.Watch on as we show you, mostly in picture form, what goes on within the barracks of both the Kingmax and Kingpak fabs, the memory giants of the industry.
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - Inside KingpakInside Kingpak
The first factory we stopped by was Kingpak where we took a brief look inside their impressive looking building which houses the modern facilities that continue to produce the revolutionary memory products available to memory manufactures today.For the people who aren't aware, Kingpak produce the actual chips for Kingmax. Both companies are separate entities, but obviously have a very close working relationship since the founder of Kingpak (Mr. Joe Liu) is also the director of Kingmax - You may wish to take a look at the interview I conducted
with Mr. Liu while at Computex for more information. Just quickly, Kingpak was founded in 1997 and currently have 260 employees with investment value of $59 million US and full ISO certifications.
Kingpak are made famous for their TinyBGA style of chips - a style of chip which is smaller (physically) than any of the competition at the moment. Kingpak don't just produce chips for Kingmax either. Actually you would be very surprised which other well known memory companies Kingpak produce chips for, from time to time, when competing companies chips are low in supply.On display in wooden cabinets at the entrance of the Kingpak building were assortments of different chips which have been produced within the factory over time. I can't say for sure what each chip is but I took a photo of them because firstly I thought they looked pretty cool and secondly it gives you all an idea about the core of the chips which are the brains for today's memory technology.
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - Inside Kingpak ContinuedInside Kingpak Continued
After being given a quick run down of the company profile from within one of the comfy conference rooms, we then proceeded on with the tour. Unfortunately we weren't allowed inside the factory itself for a closer look at the operations and machinery. We were however able to take photos from our side of the glass window, but it did make it difficult to take decent photos, mind you.Let's get the photos rolling, there are a lot of them - The first photo below shows the ambient temperature of the factory and also the humidity - It is crucial these temperatures are controlled and maintained or a whole batch of chips may be wasted due to strict operating conditions.
As we proceed through the tour the next picture shows a picture of a machine which is preparing the memory for the marking process.
The following photo shows a shot of the rest of the room with all the additional machines working away. Surprisingly, the actual Kingpak factory working area was fairly small. Out of the four story building only two floors were occupied, the extra floors will begin to become actively used when new technologies emerge.
As I said the tour of the Kingpak tour was fairly brief but it was interesting all the same to see all the operations being performed. Next we move onto the Kingmax factory which was about a 10 minute drive from the Kingpak factory, deep in what seemed to me like the heart of the industrial area of Shin Chu.
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - Inside KingmaxInside Kingmax
Out of both of the factory tours, the Kingmax tour was the one I was really look forward to and ended up enjoying the most. It was a great experience to see what went on within Kingpak although the Kingmax tour was somewhat more hands on
and was a really exciting experience to see the sticks of memory being produced from the original bare sheet of PCB to the finished product, ready to be shipped after being fully tested and marked good to go.
Kingmax hardly require any introduction - The large Taiwanese headquartered company with offices all around the world produce a range of different memory products for the consumer varying from standard SDRAM, to notebook memory all the way through to flash memory - all of which we got to see being produced. If you want to learn a little more about Kingmax, once again, I refer you back to the interview I conducted
while on the Computex show floor with the director of the company, Mr. Joe Liu.
After taking a look through the Kingmax offices and even taking a break out to sit with the Kingmax staff in their rather large cafe tier for some traditional Chinese food, it was time to hit the factory floor to see what goes on within Kingmax. Keep your eyes open, Kingmax are actively testing DDR-400 to prep it for release later this year, and it just so happens we saw the results from the testing. You might be saying about now, "So what, I have already seen DDR-400 memory on the market for sale..."
Well, while that may be true to a certain degree, the difference with Kingmax DDR-400 is it is actually DDR-400, and not overclocked DDR-333 - More on that later in the tour, for now let's continue on with the show.For the Kingmax tour the pictures will be presented from the very beginning of production to the finished product. We especially asked Kingmax to show us around this way as it gives us a better idea of how the product is produced, plus it makes it easier to write about from my prospective. :)
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - Inside Kingmax ContinuedInside Kingmax Continued
The first machine, from Advantest, tests the chips which have came from the Kingpak factory. We weren't giving much technical information throughout the tour but the pictures should do a great deal of the talking for me.
As we proceed through the tour, the chips which pass the first test are put into a big heater; in the simplest of terms, a large machine which performs the "burn-in" test on all the chips, a picture of this machine is pictured below. The picture below it is of the chips coming out in trays from the other side of the machine, just like a typical bakery oven setup - I didn't recall seeing any dough anywhere around the place, though. :)
The chips which pass this test are then set to be applied to the PCB of the memory sticks along with all the transistors and what not. Before this can happen though, a grayish color paste is applied to the reserve side of the PCB sheets which acts as an adhesive once the sticks are moved through the oven, this we will talk more about shortly.The shot below shows a bare sheet of PCB for the memory sticks. Each separate stick is laser cut using a nifty machine (pictured further below) after the memory chips, controller chip, transistors and so forth are applied to the original bare PCB sheet.The final picture of the group shows the machine which actually applies the chips to the PCB - This thing was a real speedster and did its thing real fast indeed. In fact, it moved so fast that I had to wait for it to stop its cycle so the photo wouldn't blur out.
Next we reach the oven process
where all the chips are dried solid onto the PCB (using the gray paste like we talked about earlier) through a long and skinny oven which has a maximum operating temperature of 360 degrees Celsius.
Once the PCB sticks have passed through the short oven hardening process, they are then checked manually with the use of a powerful magnified glass, as you can see in the picture below.
Once the PCB stick has been passed, they are then cut up using the laser cutting machine like I showed you earlier, into individual sticks. From there they are moved to a rather cool machine which I particularly liked, and wish I owned for that matter. Its job was to program the speed of the memory to the controller chip - programmable speeds included frequency and cache latency settings.In the first picture below there is a shot of the controller chip, the smallest chip toward the bottom right of the stick. The second photo shows a picture of the actual machine, while the final photo shows a close up of what is being displayed on the machines screen - Very cool, don't you agree - Someone please get me one of these for Christmas this year!
From here the memory is tested once again to see if the speeds were programmed in correctly, we don't want any DDR 800 slipping through by mistake now, do we? ;) The picture below shows the memory being tested for correct speed settings.
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - Inside Kingmax ContinuedInside Kingmax Continued
Once the memory has passed this test, it then moves onto the next round of testing. Half of the factory was dedicated to the final testing of the memory and the rest of left for packing and shipping the memory - It's good to see Kingmax consider the testing and quality side of the product so high. There were easy, roughly counting, 50 test beds setup which ran continuous tests of the memory before it is given the final seal of approval and finally sent of for packing and shipping.
It was interesting to note that only ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards (with Pentium 3 and Pentium 4 processors) were used for testing, along with what appeared to be Senfu DIY housing kits - the ultimate dust collectors, in my opinion.
Coincidence or not, it may be interesting to speculate if these brands were chosen because one motherboard manufacturer is known for their speedy performance (ASUS) and the other motherboard manufacturer being known for their super stability (Gigabyte) - Maybe this was on purpose to test certain sticks to see how they would handle certain conditions (fast or stable) or maybe it was just coincidence, which I'm tipping it was.
I also couldn't help but noticing a piece of paper on one of the motherboards (it was an ASUS board - I was unable to see what chipset or model it was) which was labeled "DDR-400 Pass"
with a picture of what I can only assume was a thumbs up logo. If this was indeed the case, it proves DDR-400 is not far around the corner, at least as far as memory support goes from Kingmax. However, during Computex, many companies told us the KT400 chipset from VIA wouldn't be around until at least August and maybe even as far away as October. Several motherboard manufacturers have also told us they are currently in the process of testing the SiS 648 chipset based motherboards which bring DDR-400 support to the Pentium 4 platform - We believe motherboards based on these chipsets will be released before the KT400, only time will tell though.
Kingmax and Kingpak Tour - ConclusionConclusion
As we wind our way near to the completion of the tour, after all the testing stages are complete and the different types of memory modules are given the final seal of approval and hence ready for consumer level usage, all the sticks of memory are stacked in trays like you can see in the following picture, waiting to be shipped out to customers. I would have loved to just take home one of those trays, but anyway.
We aren't finished quite yet though...While walking around the factory, toward the very end of the tour, I noticed a stick of memory (shock horror) lying around by its lonesome, but with a difference - The PCB was actually yellow in color. Curious as to why this was the case, I asked a near by Kingmax staff member for some answers. Their response was somewhat vague but basically said that the yellow PCB symbolizes they are for the Chinese market only.
Kingmax let us into a few extra surprises during the tour which they have in store for the in the not-so-distant future, but I am restricted in exactly what I can say right now...Let's just say enthusiasts will be very pleased with the new features, case modders in particular, more so.That concludes our tour of the Kingmax and Kingpak fabs - I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank Ken and Mos from Kingmax for making the tours possible, your hospitality was much appreciated and the tours were most enjoyable.Back we go to down town Taipei!