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AMD fleshes out flash plans

The chipmaker plans to release the Ornand family of flash memory chips in 2005, which could lead to expansion into wider markets.

Spansion, the flash memory division of Advanced Micro Devices, will come out with new chips next year that could allow it to expand into wider markets.

The company announced Monday that in the first quarter of next year it will come out with the Ornand family of flash memory chips. These chips will be capable of being inserted into cell phones, which typically use NOR flash memory, the kind made by Intel and AMD, and camera flash cards, which usually use NAND flash, made by Samsung and Toshiba.

AMD's plans, which it disclosed earlier this year, rely on its MirrorBit flash technology. NOR flash is more reliable than NAND, but holds far less data. Hence, device manufacturers use NOR to store applications and other crucial data that can't be corrupted, while cheaper NAND is used for storing pictures and songs.

MirrorBit chips hold two bits of information per cell, similar to Intel's StrataFlash chip. AMD has also said it will expand this to four bits of information, a move Intel said it likely won't pursue.

As a result, MirrorBit chips can provide reliability for storing code, but also provide the price/density of NAND chips.

The company, however, doesn't exactly have a lock on this idea. Intel is also trying to move into the larger NAND market while Toshiba and Samsung are promoting NAND for code storage.

AMD expects to begin low-quantity production, or sampling, of a 1-gigabit MirrorBit chip in early 2005. Typically, chips hit the market about a year after sampling. By 2007, AMD hopes to release 8-gigabit chips. Now, NOR flash memories on the market max out at around 512 gigabits, while NAND chips are in the gigabit range.

AMD last year surpassed Intel in flash memory sales, a rarity, in part because of the merger of Fujitsu's flash operations into its own and new contracts with cell manufacturers. But Intel claims it retook the lead in the most recent quarter. Lower than expected flash sales dented AMD's earnings in the third quarter.