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Nanochip promises cheaper, denser flash memory replacement

Crossbreed a millipede and phase change and what do you get? This chip, which is expected to be released in 2010.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--A number of companies have been toiling away for years on a replacement for flash memory.

Nanochip, a relatively small company that has received VC funds from Intel, among others, says it will come out with a device in 2010 that will hold eight times as much data as flash. Additionally, the device's cost per gigabyte will be two to four times less, says Nanochip CEO Gordon Knight.

Many solutions have been proposed for replacing flash--phase change memory, spintronics, silicon nanocrystals--and so far no clear winner has emerged. Phase change memory, which involves heating microscopic points on CD-like media to record data, seems to be the current leader. It isn't perfect. No less a luminary than Intel co-founder Gordon Moore said it was just around the corner, in 1970.

Nanochip, in fact, until recently worked on phase change memory, admitted Knight. Heating up those microscopic points, though, has proven difficult. As a result, the company switched to a new type of device about a year ago.

Nanochip's upcoming product technically isn't a chip. It is three chips. The bottom layer consists of silicon. Tiny actuators, or arms, are created and stick out from the silicon. These actuators, in turn, record data onto an overhead media layer. The whole thing is then capped with another chip. So think of it as the club sandwich of futuristic memory solutions.

In a sense, it is similar to IBM's Millipede prototype, which has effectively been abandoned. With Millipede, tiny actuators heated up microscopic points on media.

Nanochip doesn't use heat. The actuators change the polarization of a microscopic point. Thus, the company uses electronics rather than heat. This means that data recording will be more accurate and the chip will last longer, Knight says.

The company can also make its underlying silicon chip on fairly old 180-nanometer processes.

"We can use fully depreciated manufacturing lines," he said. "There is nothing high resolution about making these chips."

Knight provided these details during a presentation here at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit and in a meeting.