AMD unveils low-power flash

The chipmaker aims a power-stingy 1.8-volt flash memory chip at cell phones and PDAs, saying it consumes up to 95 percent less power than competing products.

Advanced Micro Devices is pitching a new low-power memory chip for cellular phones and personal digital assistants.

The chipmaker announced on Wednesday that its new power-stingy flash memory chip is now available to manufacturers. At 1.8 volts, the chip consumes less power than AMD's standard 3-volt flash chips. AMD has sold 1.8-volt flash memory chips before, but the company says the new one, dubbed Am29BDS640G, will consume up to 95 percent less power than competing products. It will be available first in 64-megabit densities.

Flash memory is used to store data in cellular phones, PDAs and networking equipment. The memory is especially suitable for phones and PDAs because it continues to store data even when its power supply is turned off.

Lower-power components are important to cell phone makers, who are designing new phones for faster 2.5G and 3G networks. Typically, these next-generation phones include larger amounts of memory and faster, more power-hungry processors. By using lower-power components such as flash memory, the manufacturers can hold the line on battery life and maintain the smaller size of their new phones. Otherwise, they would have to make larger phones to accommodate weightier batteries, or they would be forced to design a smaller phone with shorter battery life.

Creating new flavors of flash memory is also important for AMD. The chipmaker gets most of its revenue from the sale of flash memory and PC processors, such as the Athlon XP. Although it has been selling large numbers of PC chips in the last several quarters, its sales of flash memory have slumped and have only recently begun to recover from the communications market bust of 2001.

While AMD's unit shipments of processors reached record levels in the first quarter, flash memory revenue skidded to $160 million from $411 million in the same quarter a year earlier. AMD's second quarter saw a reversal of that trend: PC processor sales were down, but flash memory sales increased.

The company could see a continued pickup in quarterly earnings if sales take off for products such as the low-power chip and AMD's recently introduced MirrorBit flash memory.

Where the Am29BDS640G chip cuts power consumption, the MirrorBit increases storage capacity. The two chips will likely be used in different kinds of phones.

AMD will also sell the chip in multiple-chip packages, which allow manufacturer to sell more than one flash chip, bumping memory to 128 megabits but maintaining the same footprint on a circuit board. The package can also pair the flash chip with other kinds of memory chips, such as static RAM chips.

The Am29BDS640G carries a list price of $10.75 in lots of 10,000.