Intel Corp. on Tuesday announced it has started sampling an updated version of its flash memory chip thats only half the size of its predecessor and consumes less energy, making it more ideally suited for cell phones and handheld digital devices.
Intel contends the new chip, now being shipped to manufacturers for testing, will be two generations ahead of competitors products when it initially goes on sale in the second quarter of next year.
Flash memory has become the technology of choice for storing data on small battery operated devices. Demand for flash memory surged in recent years with the proliferation of electronic consumer products, such as mobile phones, PDAs and digital cameras.
Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is the worlds leading manufacturer of flash memory, having sold more than 700 million of the chips since the mid-1980s.
Todays announcement of a more energy-efficient and smaller design is the result of Intels migrating the production of its flash chips from a 0.18-micron manufacturing process to a newer 0.13-micron process.
The chips are just the latest Intel products to be made using the new manufacturing method, which enables production of more finely detailed components, resulting in smaller form factors that consume less energy.
Known in the industry as a process shrink, the switch to a more advanced manufacturing design is also crucial to enabling the development of faster microprocessors. On average, Intel undertakes a process shrink every 18 months to two years.
"Our goal is to ship 0.13-micron flash products before our closest competitors ship 0.18-micron products, putting Intel two product generations ahead of the next largest supplier," said Curt Nichols, vice president and general manager of Intels Flash Products Group.
The comments appear to be a veiled reference to Intel rivals, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which currently produces flash memory using a 0.25-micron process and wont be switching to a 0.18-micron process for its flash products until next year.
Intel released its first microprocessors manufactured using the 0.13-micron process in July, when it introduced five mobile Pentium III-M models. Later this year, the company will begin shipping its first Pentium 4 chips built using the process. These 2.2GHz versions arent expected to go on sale until January.
The 3 Volt Advanced+ Boot Block flash memory announced Tuesday will be available in 32-megabit and 64-megabit densities. The 32Mbit chip is sampling now and will be in production in the second quarter of next year. The 64Mbit chip will be in production in late 2002.
The chips will be priced at $11 for the 32-megabit version and $19 for the 64-megabit model, based on 10,000-unit shipments.