Micron, Intel speed up flash memory

Micron, Intel develop flash technology that speeds up data transfers by up to five times

Breaking the speed barrier of traditional flash memory, Intel and Micron Thursday announced a new flash memory architecture that increases the data transfer rates in consumer electronics by cutting the bottlenecks affecting conventional NAND flash memory.

IM Flash Technologies, a joint venture between Intel and Micron, has developed an 8G-bit SLC (single-level cell) high-speed NAND chip which can reach read speeds up to 200MB per second and write speeds of up to 100Mbps, which could mean faster data transfer between devices like solid-state drives and video cards.

"With the popularity of digital video cameras and video-on-demand services, high speed NAND can enable a high-definition movie to be transferred five times faster than conventional NAND," a spokeswoman for Micron, Kirstin Bordner, said.

Conventional NAND flash memory from Micron and other players currently transfer data at read rates of 40Mbps, with write rates of about 20Mbps.

The speed improvements resulted from changes made to the NAND architecture and improvements in the read-write circuitry, Bordner said.

This chip's architecture achieves the speed defined in the ONFI (Open NAND Flash Interface) 2.0 specification, according to Micron. Micron was one of the founders of the ONFI Working Group in 2006, and other member companies include Hynix Semiconductor, Intel, Phison Electronics, Sony and STMicroelectronics.

Micron is now sampling the high-speed NAND component, with mass production expected to commence in the second half of 2008, the company said.

Products based on the ONFI 2.0 specification have been under development and were expected, said Joseph Unsworth, a principal analyst at Gartner.

"It wasn't anything that wasn't expected. We knew that it was coming out," Unsworth said.

The technology could see an immediate future for use in video and high-end photography devices that require flash memory with quick transfer speeds and reliable data retention, Unsworth said. However, it will be priced at a premium and only multimedia enthusiasts looking for high-performance flash memory would be willing buyers, Unsworth said.

As prices stabilise, it will reach mainstream devices like MP3 players and digital cameras, but that could be a long time away, he said.

The new flash technology from Micron and Intel could also face competition from Samsung and Toshiba, the world's top flash vendors, who combined represent 60 per cent of products supplied in the NAND flash market. The two companies last year signed an agreement to share specifications to develop faster and more robust NAND interfaces, Unsworth said.

While both factions will ultimately deliver high-performance flash technology to consumers, they need to unite under one banner to ease the development of high-speed flash technology. The market is split in half, and it needs one standard voice to simplify the development of flash memory for manufacturers, Unsworth said.

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