Intel and Micron first to 25nm with new flash memory chips

The new chips are aimed at smartphones and iPods

Intel and Micron plan to unveil new 25-nanometer flash memory chips on Monday via their IM Flash Technologies joint venture, the first commercial chip products made using advanced 25nm manufacturing technology.

The new 64 gigabit (8 gigabyte) MLC (multi-level cell) NAND flash memory chip will give the companies a significant cost advantage over rivals, chip market researcher Objective Analysis said in a research note. The research note was inadvertently sent out ahead of an official announcement by Intel and Micron, which is slated for Monday.

An Intel representative confirmed the new chips and said they are aimed at smartphones, solid-state drives (SSDs), and portable media players such as iPods.

"We are currently sampling it with production expected in the second quarter," Intel said via e-mail.

The use of tiny 25nm technology puts the companies ahead of rivals in the flash industry. Samsung Electronics, the world's largest producer of flash memory, is starting work on 30nm technology this year and plans to use it in most production lines by the end of 2010.

The nanometer measurement describes the microscopic size of transistors and other parts on a chip. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, about the size of a few atoms combined.

Developing smaller chip manufacturing technology is crucial to meeting user demand for small devices that can perform many functions, such as smartphones with built-in music players, cameras and computers. Smaller etching technologies also enable companies to increase chip speed and reduce power consumption.

Advances in chip manufacturing technology also lower costs over time, a major benefit to consumers.

Objective Analysis estimates the manufacturing cost of the new 25nm flash chips will be about $US0.50 per gigabyte (GB), compared to $US1.75 per gigabyte for mainstream 45nm flash. The market price of flash chips has been hovering around $US2.00 per gigabyte, Objective Analysis said, and will likely remain there throughout 2010.

Intel and Micron are currently offering chip samples to customers so they can start to plan them into gadget designs, according to the researcher.

The companies started using 34nm technology in their flash memory chip factories in May 2008. The march to 25nm took about a year and a half.

Samsung on Friday noted strong demand for embedded flash memory products used in smartphones and other devices during its fourth quarter investors' conference. The company believes there will be limited flash memory supply increases because a number of memory chip makers were hurt by the recession and have not been able to build new factories nor upgrade old chip lines to the latest technologies.

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Dan Nystedt

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