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AMD releases low-power flash memory

AMD releases 1.8-volt flash memory chips, technology that will lengthen the standby time of such devices as cell phones.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) today released a new generation of flash memory chips that run on only 1.8 volts in power, the least power-hungry chips yet in this highly competitive market.

Lower voltages in flash memory mean longer battery life for digital cellular phones, handheld computers, and other devices that use flash memory. Lower voltages also mean that the device can operate on a lower voltage power supply.

The AM29SL800, the name for the new device, should lengthen the standby time of most devices as well as give AMD a marketing angle with customers who build products such as handheld computers. The new chip comes in densities ranging from 8MB to 64MB.

"Eventually, digital cellular phones will be capable of providing one month of standby time, as is common with pagers today," said Walid Maghribi, group vice president of AMD's Memory Group, in a prereleased statement.

Innovation in many ways has moved to the forefront of the flash memory market as a result of recent price cuts. As in the main memory market, prices for flash memory have been ravaged over the past year. The entry of too many competitors has lead to too much factory capacity and, hence, too many chips.

"There are too many competitors and too much capacity," said Bruce Bonner, a memory analyst at Dataquest. Since the beginning of the year, the price for flash memory in quantity has dropped 35 percent, even though demand has increased because of the growth of the digital cell phone market.

"This helps AMD maintain their competitive edge," Bonner added. "The low-voltage, high-density space is extremely competitive." At 1.8 volts, the new device will, for now, be the low-power leader.

Interestingly enough, AMD will charge a premium for the chip, which will cost approximately 20 percent more than AMD's 2.7-volt flash memory device. The Am29SL800, available now, will start at $8.35 in quantities of 10,000.

"Previously, AMD had said that low voltage is for free," said Bonner. When AMD released a 3-volt part to replace a 5-volt part, for example, the company did not raise the price at the time.

Versions of the Am29SL800 come with read access times of 170, 120, and 100 nanoseconds. The 170 nanosecond version is available now. The 120 and 100 nanosecond versions will be in volume production in the first quarter of 1998.