Elpida, UMC team up on PRAM, DRAM

Elpida and UMC will work together to develop PRAM technology.

Japanese DRAM (dynamic RAM) maker Elpida Memory and Taiwanese contract chip maker United Microelectronics (UMC) plan to work together to develop phase-change memory chip products, including PRAM (phase-change RAM), joining a growing chorus of chip makers using the technology.

The two companies will also work together on advanced DRAM production technology, they said in a statement late Monday.

PRAM is a speedy memory chip able to retain data even when power is shut off, similar to flash memory. The chips can rewrite data 30 times faster than conventional flash memory and are expected to have at least 10 times the life span. Several companies have formed joint development ventures around PRAM, and say the chips could replace several used in gadgets today, including DRAM, NAND flash, NOR flash, and SRAM (static RAM).

Elpida and UMC pledged to use their expertise in materials and high-performance manufacturing technology, respectively, to cooperate in PRAM technology development. They did not offer a time frame for when they may have PRAM products ready.

So far, two companies have announced phase-change memory products that could be out within the next year. Samsung Electronics Co, the world's largest memory chip maker, last year unveiled a working prototype of a 512M-bit chip, and expects to have the chips available in early 2008.

Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics NV are developing phase-change memory at their joint NOR flash venture, Numonyx. Intel demonstrated a working prototype PRAM chip earlier this year at its developer forum in Beijing.

Another major group of companies, IBM, Qimonda and Macronix International Co, showed off a prototype PRAM chip that runs 500 times faster than flash memory while using half as much power to write data to a memory cell late last year. The chips would be useful in small devices where battery life is a worry for users, but production technology required for the fine circuitry of the prototype chip might not be around until 2015.

So far this month, two groups have made announcements surrounding phase-change memory.

South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor signed a long-term licensing agreement with phase-change memory technology developer Ovonyx., and Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), in partnership with six Taiwanese chip makers, believe they could have a PRAM product ready within three years.

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