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A short tour of Kingston's Hsinchu factory

Where memory modules are born

On our third day in Taiwan earlier this month, we left the hustle and bustle of the Computex show floor and hopped on a bus to Hsinchu, about 60 miles from the island-nation's capital. Hsinchu's Science and Industrial Park plays host to a great number of technology companies—BenQ, Lite-On, Realtek, TSMC, UMC, and many others. Among the bigger players at the park is Kingston; visiting its factory there was the purpose of our visit.

We arrived at our destination in the middle of the afternoon, dodging raindrops on the short path from the bus to the factory entrance. As we made our way into the big, beautifully decorated lobby, Kingston staffers issued RFID badges and beckoned us past the security turnstiles and into the elevator to the factory floors.

Upstairs, we entered a conference room and were given lab coats and shoe covers to wear. I was slightly embarrassed to be given an XXL garment, and my embarrassment only grew when I realized it was indeed the correct size. (Hey, I'm only a medium back home.) Kingston then gave us some instructions: we were to stick with the group, ask permission before taking photographs, and direct our questions to the tour guide, a company veteran who spoke in thickly accented English.

Our guide took us through several floors, starting with memory assembly and finishing at the ground-level warehouse, where assembled products are packed and shelved. From start to finish, the tour itself lasted about 45 minutes. Almost everywhere we went, workers seemed to scatter out of sight—one woman actually ran out when we entered the memory testing area. The guide also didn't dwell on specifics or the particular order of operations. Nevertheless, we managed to snap a healthy number of photos and gather a fair amount of details, giving us interesting insight into Kingston's operations.

Before we go on, we should probably take a minute to introduce Kingston to the unacquainted. The company was born in 1987, quickly becoming one of the major catalysts of the transition from plain DIP memory chips to single-inline memory modules (SIMMs). Over the past 23 years, Kingston has grown from a small operation at co-founder David Sun's home to the world's biggest DRAM supplier by revenue. Data from market research firm iSuppli suggest Kingston garnered 40% of global DRAM revenue in 2009, while its closest competitor, A-Data, only secured 7.4%.

In addition to its strong foothold in the system memory business, Kingston continues to diversify its entries in the wild and wonderful world of flash memory. Kingston now produces USB thumb drives, SD cards, and solid-state drives, some of which we've had a chance to review. The factory we visited produces both RAM and flash memory, so we got to see both facets of the company's operations.

Head on to the next page to see where the magic happens.