Intel’s flash chip packs more pace and punch

Intel Corp. is expected to announce its latest flash memory product Thursday, improving the speed and lowering the power consumption of the preferred storage method for mobile phones.

Flash memory can store data without the constant supply of electricity needed to store data in RAM, and without the moving parts of small hard drives, making it the widespread storage medium for small battery-powered devices such as mobile phones. Intel makes a type of flash memory known as NOR, which stands for the “not or” logic gate used to run the chip.

Intel’s new M18 flash memory chip writes information three times faster than its older L18 chip, and reads information twice as fast, said Allen Holmes, director of marketing for Intel’s flash products group. It is the company’s first multilevel cell (MLC) flash memory chip built using its 90-nanometer manufacturing technology, which helped Intel reduce the power consumption of the M18 chip by up to half the power used by the L18 chip, he said. Samples of the chip were released in June.

Another type of flash memory, known as NAND (for the “not and” logic gate) is gaining favor with designers of high-end mobile phones that use an operating system and sophisticated applications. NAND memory writes information faster than NOR memory and can store larger amounts of data in the same sized chip, making it a better product for phones that need to process large amounts of data. NAND memory is also used in expansion cards and Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod nano and iPod Shuffle music players.

NOR is considered more reliable and easier to implement, and is used in most mainstream mobile phones. But the reliability of NAND memory has improved, and industry-wide revenue from NAND memory exceeded revenue from NOR memory for the first time this year, according to market research firm iSuppli Corp. Some flash memory manufacturers, such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Spansion Ltd., Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s joint venture with Fujitsu Ltd., are developing products that combine aspects of NOR and NAND memory.

Intel’s M18 chip improves write speeds to the point where they are “good enough” for most mobile phones, Holmes said. The company does stack small amounts of NAND flash memory along with NOR and RAM memory for mobile phone vendors who need NAND’s performance for certain applications, he said.

The new chip is also available in a denser package, with 256M-byte and 512M-byte chips shipping. Intel can stack two 512M-byte chips for a total of 1G-byte of storage, Holmes said. NAND chips are available in densities of up to 4G bytes.

Several phone vendors are testing the M18 chip, including Sony Ericcson Mobile Communications AB and NEC Corp., an Intel spokeswoman said. The company has been shipping the chip to those vendors for several weeks, she said.

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