Intel, Micron challenge Samsung with first 50 nm flash memory

Santa Clara (CA) - Samsung, which has been leading the NAND flash market with more than 50% market share and is the typically first to introduce a new production process for flash memory may see more competition down the road: The NAND flash joint venture between Intel and Micron, IM Technologies, is first to announce sampling of a 50 nm chip.

The chip is the first significant announcement to come out of IM Technologies since the announcement of the joint venture back in November of last year. According to a press release distributed on Tuesday, the chips have a capacity of 4 Gb(it) and are currently available in low quantities. Mass production of the 50 nm memory is planned to begin sometime in 2007. Spokesperson Daniel Francisco declined to comment on possible capacities of Flash memory modules at that time.

Samsung, usually the company that announces higher Flash capacities and smaller production processes, last week said that it started production of 8 Gb 60 nm chips that are vertically stacked into two 4 GB(yte) packages, each carrying a vertical stack of four 8 Gb dies - creating an 8 GB flash memory chip. At this time, Samsung appears to be still holding the production lead in flash memory technology, but IM said that it intends to tackle Samsung's dominant position.

"Micron entered the NAND business in 2004 using a 90 nm process. In a few short years and through our collaboration with Intel, we are now poised to introduce a leadership product based on a cutting-edge process technology," said Brian Shirley, Micron vice president of memory. While Micron belongs to the group of established NAND Flash manufacturers and currently is ranked by market research firm as the world's fifth largest NAND flash company with a market share of about 4%, Intel is new to the game.

Intel is currently the world's second largest NOR flash manufacturer, but does not have any experience in developing NAND. The NAND products being produced by the Intel-Micron joint venture will mainly be absorbed by Micron's and Intel's products - including motherboards with Robson flash cache technology - and make their way into consumer electronics, removable storage and handheld communications devices developed and marketed by the two firms. However, IM also has a "long-term" supply agreement with Apple to ensure flash supply for the Ipod. According to Intel, Apple has prepaid about $500 million. Intel and Micron support the joint venture approximately $1.2 billion each.

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