Intel pitches 65nm flash chip for mobile phone memory

Intel Corp. will target cell phone mankers with its NOR flash memory built on 65-nanometer chips.

Mobile phones built in 2007 could store twice as many photos as they do now with a super-dense NOR flash memory chip from Intel.

Intel, of California, will achieve the gain by producing the chip on a tiny, 65-nanometer scale. Compared to standard 90-nanometer flash geometry, this allows designers to store 1G bit of data on a single layer, instead of stacking two chips.

When it ships samples of this "Capulet" chip to OEMs in the fourth quarter, Intel claims it will be at least six months ahead of rivals Spansion and Samsung Semiconductor.

On that schedule, Intel will launch the product just 12 months after it introduced its predecessor, the 90-nanometer Intel StrataFlash Cellular Memory chip. That product used a 1.8-volt, multilevel cell (MLC) design to support 256M-bit or 512M-bit density on a single layer, or 1G bit in stacked dies. The new chip uses that same "M18" architecture, allowing developers to upgrade their phone platforms without changing the software and hardware, said Allen Holmes, director of marketing for Intel's NOR flash group.

NOR flash is a type of storage built from integrated circuits, with no moving parts. As non-volatile memory, it can hold stored data even when the power is out. Designers often choose it for code storage because it allows random data access, with fast data reading and processing. In comparison, they usually picked the similar NAND flash for bulk data storage. But as NOR density increases, they increasingly use it for complex mobile devices, from cellular phones to PDAs (personal digital assistants), digital cameras, portable game consoles and MP3 players.

Cell phone designers will choose the Capulet chip so they can support flashy new features like video, high resolution photos, and faster startup times, Holmes said.

It will also hold more pictures. A typical cell phone using Intel's 90-nanometer flash chip can store 250 one-megapixel photos, or 80 four-megapixel photos. The Capulet will hold twice as many, he said.

Analysts warned that 65-nanometer storage will not change the market overnight.

The launch will have more value as a strategic move by Intel than as a sign the rest of the industry will soon follow, said Richard Doherty, research director for The Envisioneering Group, Seaford, New York. Sixty-five-nanometer flash will initially appeal only to those users demanding 3G-speed video and fast gaming, he said.

In the meantime, Intel's competitors could catch up fast.

"Intel's shift to a 65mn process will help strengthen Intel's competitive position in the cell phone market. However, Intel will not go unchallenged," said Nicole D'Onofrio, an analyst with Current Analysis.

In fact, Samsung announced Tuesday it was mass-producing similar NAND flash memory chips, using a 70-nanometer process to provide 1G-bit capacity. The OneNAND product has 70 percent greater efficiency than standard 90-nanometer processing, making it appropriate for mobile handsets, memory cards for digital cameras and hybrid hard disk drives, Samsung said.

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