Intel introduces high performance flash memory chips

Intel Corp. announced Wednesday its next generation of flash memory chips for cellular phones and handheld devices which will increase the data transfer rate by fourfold and reduce power consumption by as much as 60 percent.

The Intel flash product, W18, which uses the chipmaker’s 0.13-micron technology, will be targeted at the new crop of data-enabled handsets being launched along with 2.5G and 3G (third generation) wireless networks in the second half of this year.

As cell phones move well beyond voice to running fully functioning applications, including such multimedia tasks as streaming video and MPEG 3 audio files, the need for faster access to data will become critical, according to Scott Dunagan, product marketing manager for Intel’s Flash Products Group, in Folsom, Calif.

The new chips will transfer data at 80MBps in contrast to the previous generation of Intel flash memory, which sent data at 20MBps. While performance is up the power consumption is down, from 3 volt to 1.8 volts, Dunagan said.

However one industry analyst, David Hayden, president of MobileWeek, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based mobile consultancy, said that as applications become more prevalent in cell phones flash memory capacity will become exponentially more important than transfer speed or even power consumption.

Currently, each W18 flash chip has a capacity of 8MB, but with a new packaging design from Intel two chips can be stacked. A 16MB-density chip will be in production in 2003, Dunagan said.

“We can also stack this part with SRAM (static RAM) for a more highly integrated memory sub-system to reduce space,” Dunagan said.

In the future, flash will also be stacked with the application logic chips in a process called “folded stacking,” Dunagan added.

Although, the W18 flash product will also make it easier for manufacturers to design converged cell phone and handheld all-in-one units, Hayden believes that devices such as the Handspring Treo will remain a small part of the mobile market.

“The manufacturers believe that everyone is looking for some utopian, single, converged device, but they will represent the minority in the overall phone business for at least the next three to five years,” Hayden said.

The W18 product is sampling now and will ship this summer.