Intel, Micron Make Smallest Flash Chip Yet

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-05-29 Print this article Print

The dense new flash chip is expected to cause some waves in the oversupplied market.

Intel and Micron Technology May 29 announced that their joint venture R&D project will skip the "4x" generation of process technologies for their NAND flash development and will jump from 52 to 34 nanometers. 

The two companies will use this technology to produce a 32-gigabit (throughput), 4GB-capacity flash chip that can fit in a standard TSOP (thin small-outline package). Flash chips are commonly used in MP3 players, cell phones, and handheld devices of all kinds.

It is the smallest flash process geometry on the market. The 32G-bit chip is the only monolithic device at this density that fits into a standard 48-lead TSOP, providing a cost-effective path to higher densities in existing applications.

Shipments of customer samples begin in June and mass production is expected during the second half of this calendar year, an Intel spokesperson said.

The chip is currently sampling to select customers and controller makers, the spokesperson said.

Intel and Micron entered the market with 72-nm chips in 2006; at the time, they said they believed they were about two years behind competing chip makers Samsung and Hitachi. Both companies now contend that with this new development, they have surpassed the competition, the spokesperson said.

New Product Is Gamble in an Oversupplied Market

What does this mean to the NAND flash market?

"The market is oversupplied; there is no question about that," Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective Analysis, told eWEEK via e-mail.

"At the onset of an oversupply, prices collapse to cost, then follow the cost until the market returns to a shortage. We expect today's oversupply to continue through 2008," Handy said.

This does not mean that prices will follow the cost of the IMFT device, Handy said. 

"At a die size [they are using], the price of a 32Gb chip will be just shy of $4, which works out to about 99 cents/GB.  The companies will be the first to break the $1/GB barrier with this product," Handy said.

Today's NAND prices are hovering near $2.50 per gigabyte, Handy said.

"With a 99 cents/GB price, the new IMFT chip can be expected to reap impressive margins as long as NAND prices stay above their competitors' costs," he said.

On the other hand, Handy said, a shift to 34 nm could cause the NAND market to continue to be oversupplied for perhaps longer than Objective Analysis' December 2007 projection of the middle of 2009. Such a move might cause an oversupply to last an additional quarter.

"All in all, we see this move as one that will perhaps lengthen today's oversupply while allowing the new NAND competitors-Micron and Intel-to either profit during these difficult times, or at least to suffer smaller losses than will other suppliers," Handy said.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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