Toshiba reports flash memory deal, FeRAM progress

Toshiba said later this year it plans to begin selling flash memory chips based on M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd.'s flash memory capacity-doubling technology. It also reported progress on joint development work of a new memory technology with Infineon Technologies AG.

The deal with M-Systems will see Toshiba producing 512M-bit (64M-byte) memory chips based on M-Systems' Mobile DiskOnChip G3 technology, which allows each memory cell to hold double the amount of information that a conventional flash memory cell can hold.

This is accomplished by adding two additional states for each transistor so rather than being simply on or off, they can also be partially on or partially off. Using a proprietary on-chip controller to sense these levels, each memory cell can be used to hold two bits of information rather than one. Because the controller is on-chip, the entire device looks like a conventional memory chip to the rest of the system.

Energy consumption is also lower: When not in use, the chip draws 10 microamps compared to around 100 microamps for a flash memory chip, said Junichi Kishida, senior manager at Toshiba's memory division.

The advantage the technology bring to developers is that the space required for a given amount of memory can be reduced, and that in turn helps drive miniaturization and the production of smaller and more compact electronics products for consumers.

The new Toshiba chip will be available in sample quantities in April this year and commercially from around September. Sample pricing is US$16 per chip.

Toshiba plans to develop a family of devices based on the technology and a lower capacity 256M-bit chip is also due this year, said Kishida. M-Systems said it expects a 1G-bit version of the chip to be available next year, followed by a 2G-bit version in 2005.

Earlier in the week, Toshiba said it and Germany's Infineon have successfully developed a 32M-bit ferroelectric RAM (FeRAM) chip. The chip, details of which were presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, is the latest product of joint development work the two companies began in early 2001.

The companies consider FeRAM to be a possible replacement for flash and SRAM (static RAM) memory used in mobile devices, because it offers attractive features of each type of memory. It can hold data in memory even when the power is disconnected, just as flash memory can, and also works at the higher speeds offered by SRAM or DRAM (dynamic RAM), said the two companies.

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