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AMD lets loose with new flash memory

The MirrorBit chip promises to double storage capacity and give Intel a run for its money in the market for cell phones and PDAs.

Advanced Micro Devices is sampling a new flash memory chip that promises to double storage capacity and give Intel a run for its money in the market for cellular phones and other consumer electronics devices.

AMD said Monday that it has begun shipping MirrorBit, its newest flash memory technology, to its device maker partners in small quantities. The memory stores 2 bits of data per cell--flash memory's smallest unit of data storage--instead of the typical 1 bit.

By increasing the amount of data per cell, AMD says it can offer flash memory that stores more data but sells for the same price. As a result, cell phone makers, PDA makers and other consumer electronics makers could enhance their devices with more complicated operating systems or a greater number of applications without hiking prices.

MirrorBit also offers similar pricing and storage capacities to that of Intel's StrataFlash.

Though StrataFlash, which has been on the market for three years, is the more proven technology, analysts say MirrorBit is promising. They say AMD could function as a second supplier, giving device markers some breathing room.

"Some vendors very desperately want a second source" for higher-density flash memory, said Rick Doherty, an analyst at researcher Invisioneering. "Basically, it's good for cell phone and multimedia PDA manufacturers that have been hoping for an...alternative (to) Intel."

But Doherty said MirrorBit technology must still prove itself. AMD's Athlon chip for PCs faced a similar situation in 1999 before being accepted in the market.

AMD says it believes flash memory sales, which were hit hard by the 2001 economic slump and resulting communications market slowdown, will pick up again in the second half of this year.

If nothing else, MirrorBit has excellent timing.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD will begin shipping MirrorBit by the end of this quarter, bringing the memory technology to market in time to be used in phones scheduled to come out at end of the third quarter or in the fourth quarter.

Many of these phones will operate on so-called 2.5G networks, which feature faster data rates that will come into greater use in North America. Such phones have already been unveiled across Europe. They boast greater functionality in part because they can download greater amounts of data more quickly.

Intel, for one, has said these phones will require much more flash memory.

MirrorBit will debut at a 64-megabit density for a price of $7.95 per chip in 10,000-unit lots.

Intel's StrataFlash costs about $10 to $35, depending on density.