Intels New Flash Technology Could Boost Mobile Devices

Intel this week will introduce a new flash technology that could expand the built-in memory as well as the digital prowess of mobile devices such as cell phones and handhelds.

Intel Corp. this week will introduce a new flash technology that could expand the built-in memory as well as the digital prowess of mobile devices such as cell phones and handhelds.

At the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei, Taiwan, the company will announce its Intel StrataFlash Wireless Memory System, a technology that will let OEMs reduce the amount of power, space and cost needed for flash memory in handhelds.

StrataFlash will incorporate the elements from two distinct flash memory technologies: NAND, used to store data in external flash cards, and NOR a format optimized for small amounts of program code embedded in mobile devices.

NOR flash can be accessed without the need for error checking and OEMs currently take advantage of this charateristc to store critical program data required for the operation of a device. The NAND flash format lacks NORs robustness, but its cheaper to manufacture, and reads and writes data much faster than NOR. In addition, NAND flash is often accompanied by a RAM cache, which improves the speed of data access, yet also increases the production and total system costs.

Intels StrataFlash bridges the two types of memory, and is optimized for both code and data storage, the company said. Intels first StrataFlash package will be capable of housing four chips in a single package, consisting of variable combinations of flash and RAM, depending on a customers preferences.

"What were doing here is extending the product family," said Scott Dunagan, a flash product marketing manager for Intel. "With this, the Intel StrataFlash family is able to go after a more complete solution, including code and more data."

Intels previous flash devices have allowed a small amount of data to be stored alongside the code, but over time the need for data has grown dramatically, according to Dunagan. Intels latest flash devices are geared toward the highest-end phones that are beginning to appear in the market, which have the ability to download and render small snippets of video piped in over high-speed wireless services.

The StrataFlash chips will sample in November, and enter production in February 2004. Pricing was not disclosed.

Although OEM vendors look to Intel to supply them with the microprocessors that power PCs and other devices, Intel is also among the worlds leading manufacturers of flash memory.

Intels chief rival in both the microprocessor and NOR flash memory markets, Advanced Micro Devices, also has NAND flash capability that the company developed in 1999, called UltraNAND. However, the company only sells a "very little bit" of product, according to AMD spokesman Tim Martin.

According to one analyst, Intel has designs on the NAND flash card market—however, not to enter it, but to marginalize its importance. Jim Handy, an analyst with Semico Research Corp., said that by placing NAND and NOR capability in a single package, Intel hopes to convince OEMs to eliminate NAND flash from their designs, which could reduce the cost of materials.

"The advantage that NAND provides is that it costs about a third as much as NOR flash," Handy said. "What this is trying to do is to take people who might be lured away from NOR and keep them, based on pricing."

The new dual-capability chips may rival the cost benefits from traditional NAND memory. Handy said he was impressed by a die photograph that showed Intels 256-megabit NOR chip as slightly smaller than a similar 256-megabit NAND chip, which are usually smaller and cheaper to manufacture.

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