Intel Corp. plans to refocus its efforts on the mainstream flash market with the launch of a new product family early next year, which analysts said could further undermine already deteriorating pricing.
From its goal of being the top supplier in flash memory for cellular handsets two years ago, Intel executives have said that they intend to be the top supplier of flash, overall, by next year. That means that the company is going to aggressively push into what it calls the “broad market,” stripping features from its higher-performance parts to meet a low-cost price target.
According to Ed Doller, chief technical officer for Intels Flash Products Group in Santa Clara, Calif., the new product line will be consistent with Intels recent strategy of capitalizing on its manufacturing prowess first and foremost. Intel plans to disclose its flash plans at the Intel Developer Forum in Taiwan on Tuesday, as well as a new version of its Flash Data Integrator software and a new developer kit for handset makers, Doller said in an interview late Monday.
NOR flash has traditionally been somewhat slower than its NAND counterpart, the type of flash memory used for storing data in CompactFlash cards and competing products. Cellular phones, PDAs and other products typically use a small amount of NOR flash for code storage and a much greater amount of NAND flash for storing data, in part because of its file structure and fast write speed.
The broad market, which Doller defined as “everything but cellular,” doesnt require the features that Intel has built into its top-of-the-line StrataFlash flash products, which include the ability to pack more than one bit per cell—which Intel calls multilayer cell (MLC) technology—and, potentially, features such as the ability to read data while writing to another partition within the cell.
“Clearly, cellular was the largest piece of the market, and its where weve been focused for the last five or six years,” Doller said. By its own estimates, Intel products ship into 40 percent of the cellular market. “From a density standpoint, our L18 [StrataFlash] fits well in the cellular market. But we havent done a good job of being focused on the broad market, which is still a fairly large segment of the market.”
Specifically, Doller said, the company will be focusing on densities 128M bits and greater, using the companys low-voltage LV30 flash core as a base. Intel has already begun to sample some its products on its finer 90-nm manufacturing process. “To lower cost, we will be removing some of these features that we include in the cellular market,” Doller added.
Nam Hyung Kim, an analyst with iSuppli Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., said he thinks Intel returned to the top spot in the NOR flash market during the third quarter. However, his estimates are still being finalized.
“Basically every [flash] product was focused on the handset market last year. This year, they [Intel] want to go back to the broad market,” Kim said. The new product family should begin sampling to customers this quarter, he said.
With Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intel, Samsung and others all aggressively increasing their manufacturing capacity, Kim said he expects NOR flash pricing to dip in 2004 and the beginning of 2005.
The average price of a 128-bit NOR flash device was $7.20 in September and should drop to $6.80 in the fourth quarter, then to $6.50 in the first quarter of 2005, said Robbie Galoso, an analyst in iSupplis market intelligence services division.
Intels new family of products could also have a weakening effect on NAND prices, Kim said.
The new royalty-free Flash Integrator 6.0 software Intel will introduce Tuesday takes advantage of the next-generation StrataFlash memory, as well as the current L18/L30 “Tyax” flash. Intel shipped its 100 millionth Tyax unit in the current fourth quarter. The flash SDK includes code samples, guides and tools to help developers, Doller said.
Check out eWEEK.coms Infrastructure Center at http://infrastructure.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.