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Intel climbs flash rankings as market dips

Aggressive marketing and pricing helps Intel climb back out of flash memory hole, but marketwide flash revenue declines.

In flash memory, Intel went from first to fourth and is now second.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant climbed back up the rankings in the flash memory market in the third quarter, according to research firm iSuppli, thanks to its pricing strategy. Starting late last year, Intel replaced executives and put new programs in place to stem a slide from first to fourth place that began in the middle of 2003.

Intel pulled in $639 million in flash revenue during the third quarter, up 8.9 percent from the second quarter, to account for 16 percent of the flash memory sold worldwide. Samsung retained the overall crown by selling $990 million worth of flash, 3.3 percent more than the previous quarter. Samsung's sales accounted for 24.8 percent of the market.

"Intel has been mounting a remarkable resurgence in 2004 by using aggressive marketing and pricing strategies," iSuppli said.

Intense competition on price reduced the size of the overall market. Only $4.2 billion worth of flash memory was sold in the third quarter, 4 percent less than in the previous quarter. The decline marks the first sequential quarterly decrease since the first quarter of 2003. In third place, Toshiba commanded 14.6 percent of the market, seeing revenues grow by only 1 percent to hit $582 million.

Spansion, a joint venture between Advanced Micro Devices and Fujitsu, meanwhile, saw sales sink. Revenue came to $538 million, a 20.1 percent drop from the second quarter. Spansion's market share dropped to 13.5 percent.

Last week, Bertrand Cambou, chief executive of Spansion, attributed the losses to excess inventory, adding that the company has signed deals with nine of the 10 largest cell phone makers.

Renesas Technology, Sharp Electronics, STMicroelectronics and others also saw declines.

Flash companies are also prepping for a next generation of devices that will widen competition. Currently, Intel and Spansion make NOR flash memory, used to store code in cell phones and networking equipment. Samsung and Toshiba produce NAND flash, which is cheaper but not as fast at retrieving data. NAND chips get incorporated into flash cards.

Spansion has disclosed plans to come out with a NOR chip that comes with a NAND interface (and is as cheap as NAND) to be slotted into memory cards. Meanwhile, Samsung has revealed plans to produce a fast NAND chip with a NOR interface.