ST shrinks 0.18 micron flash memory cell

Manufacturers can now purchase chips with embedded flash memory from STMicroelectronics NV (ST) that feature extremely small cell sizes, the company announced Tuesday.

ST is producing embedded flash memory in volume quantities on its 0.18-micron process technology with cells that measure just 0.37 square microns, it said in a press release. Devices such as engine management units for automobiles and consumer entertainment devices are among the potential applications for this technology, which is available in arrays of up to 10M bits, ST said.

A flash memory cell is equal to one bit of information. Smaller flash memory cells mean chip makers can design smaller flash memory chips, and therefore reduce the cost of materials and price of that chip, ST said.

Discrete flash memory products are already being manufactured on 0.13-micron process technologies, said Rich Wawrzyniak, a senior analyst at Semico Research Corp. in Phoenix. Discrete flash memory is purchased by itself for devices such as cell phones, while embedded flash memory is designed right into the ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chip used in other embedded devices, he said.

Many chip makers are still manufacturing embedded chips on the 0.18-micron process technology due to yield problems experienced by some with the state-of-the-art 0.13-micron process technology, Wawrzyniak said. Because embedded chips sell for much less than PC or server processors, yields are very important, he said. The yield is the percentage of working chips cut from a silicon wafer.

Smaller flash memory cells can probably be found that were manufactured on a 0.13-micron process technology, but there is still demand for the 0.18-micron chips, Wawrzyniak said. ST will likely use the new flash memory cells in its own ASIC and embedded chips, rather than licensing it to competitors, he said.

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Tom Krazit

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