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Intel unveils low-powered flash memory for cell phones

The company previews a new generation of chips geared at extending the battery life on the mobile phones of the future.

Intel previewed Monday a new generation of flash memory chips geared at extending the battery life on the cell phones of the future.

The new chips, called the 1.8 Volt Wireless Flash Memory, are designed largely for a time in the near future when cell phones will commonly be used to manage instant messages, grab Internet data and perform other battery-sapping applications.

Flash memory, which is used to store programs and data, has become a lucrative product line this year with the rise in demand for handheld computers and cell phones. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have both begun touting flash-memory revenues more in their quarterly reports than in the past. And although some component shortages have eased because of a sudden drop in demand, flash memory, especially the type that can be used in phones, remains in tight supply.

"There is nothing that says things are loosening," said Rich Wawrzyniak, director of analysis for non-volatile memory at Semico Research.

The new chips essentially will consume less energy than current competing products, the company said. As a result, people will be able to get more life out of a single battery charge or run MP3 files on a phone without tempting an inconvenient brownout.

There are already low-voltage flash memory chips on the market, but generally these provide lower levels of performance, Wawrzyniak said. The new Intel chips will be able to forward data to the processor at 14 nanoseconds to 70 nanoseconds.

Cell phones "are starting to move into the entertainment space, the computing space, the how-the-hell-did-we-live-without-these space," he said. "We haven't moved to the point where the user can undertake these applications without some forethought."

Intel has said it's starting to produce samples of its new flash memory and will launch the chips commercially in the first quarter of next year. The 32-megabit version of the new flash will cost $16 each in quantities of 10,000, while 64-megabit flash will cost $30 each in those quantities. A 128-megabit version will follow later in 2001.