Flash memory replacement coming this year?

Phase-change memory chips (ovonics) have been a long time in the works. With the help of Intel and STMicroelectronics, their time may be soon.

SANTA CLARA Calif.--Will Intel announce this year that it will finally start producing phase-change memory, a potential replacement for flash memory that's been in the works?

That's the guess among people in the hallways of the Flash Memory Summit taking place here this week. Observers say Intel and STMicroelectronics, which have formed a joint venture to make memory, may soon outline plans to go commercial with phase-change memory chips (also called ovonics) this year. ST is very hot on getting the technology--which is said to be more dense than flash memory--out into the market, sources say.

Intel has not officially commented on when it will come out with this memory. Greg Komoto, manager for strategic planning for Intel's flash memory group, who spoke at the conference, merely said Intel has created samples of 90-nanometer phase-change chips and that Intel believes these chips could replace NAND flash, the kind of memory found in MP3 players, in the future.

"There is no other memory that has a potential for low costs that has so many other attributes," he said.

Jim Handy of Objective Analysis noted that the Intel-ST joint venture is named Numonyx. The company that invented the basic technology and that licenses it to large outfits like Intel is called Ovonyx (and maybe the favorite band at the company is Wyld Stallionz from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). Numonyx last month said it will make memory for the consumer market and promises to reveal more details later this year.

"I'm reading a lot into that weird spelling," he said.

Phase-change memory is made from similar material as CD discs. The material is fashioned into chips. Microscopic bits on the chip are then heated rapidly to around 600 celsius. The heating turns the bit from having a crystalline structure to having an amorphous one.

It has been a long time in the works. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore wrote an article in which he extolled the virtues of the type of memory and predicted a sunny future for it. The article came out in 1970. Since then, though, a lot of work has been done. Samsung, Philips and others are experimenting with the stuff too.

NAND flash, by the way, will start to hit a wall in around seven years, according to Eli Harari, CEO of SanDisk, one of the primary manufacturers of NAND.

All we are is dust in the wind, Socrates.

 

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