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Alliance to create memory in a flash

Intel and Sharp will work on a new memory chip technology to make devices even smaller.

Intel and Sharp are cooperating to develop a new memory chip technology that will let system vendors create even smaller cellular phones, digital cameras, and handheld computers.

The two companies today announced a new family of Smartvoltage flash memory chips created using a 0.4-micron process that reduces the size of the chips by 44 percent compared to the 0.6-micron process now commonly used. Intel and Sharp are now providing samples of an 8MB chip built with the new process and will begin volume production of the chips in September, according to Intel.

Flash memory differs from DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chips because they can continue to store information even after the computer is turned off. This capability makes them especially useful for peripheral devices such as digital cameras or voice recorders that are used to store information while traveling and need to be powered down before the data is printed or processed. The Smartvoltage chip means that these devices can be manufactured in smaller sizes but still store more data.

The current market for flash memory chips is about $1.77 billion, but Intel expects the demand to quadruple over the next three years as flash memory chips find more uses, perhaps even in place of more conventional storage technologies such as hard disk drives.

Intel and Sharp together control nearly half of the existing market but face strong competition from Toshiba, Sanyo, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi. Hitachi and Mitsubishi have also formed a development partnership to produce 64MB flash memory chips.

The chips are being manufactured at two Intel factories in the United States and a Sharp plant in Fukuyama, Japan. The companies will expand the family to include pin-compatible 4MB and 16MB chips late this year so that users of devices built around the chips will be able to upgrade their memory.

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