Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Fujitsu Ltd. today will announce that they will collaborate with Israeli IP developer Saifun Semiconductors Ltd. on flash-memory chips that store four bits per cell to increase data storage in future 3G wireless handsets.
The three-way deal was sprung from the settlement of a patent suit filed this year by Saifun against AMD, whose two-bits-per-cell MirrorBit flash is strikingly similar to Saifun's nitrided read-only memory (NROM).
While denying the lawsuit had merit, AMD said the litigation brought to the company's attention a technology that it might otherwise have missed.
"Saifun is a small company. Typically we're looking for larger [collaboration] deals," said Kevin Plouse, vice president of technical marketing and business development at AMD's memory group, Sunnyvale, Calif. "By suing us, they got us to sit at the table and look at what they had going on."
AMD and Fujitsu -- flash manufacturing partners through Fujitsu AMD Semiconductor Ltd. (FASL) -- have taken equal equity stakes in Saifun, and licensed Saifun's NROM technology. Financial terms were not disclosed, including whether AMD and Fujitsu will pay per-chip royalties to Saifun.
As part of the arrangement, Saifun will help AMD and Fujitsu develop a four-bits-per-cell flash technology, which AMD and Fujitsu will use to make high-density data storage chips for next-generation cell phones, according Plouse.
The chips, offering from 512Mbits to 4Gbits of cost-effective data storage, are expected to hit the market by mid-2004, Plouse said.
Saifun will likely plug the technology into its joint venture with Infineon Technologies A.G. called Ingentix, which is developing low-cost memory cards, he added.
The deal puts pressure on rival Intel Corp., which has a competing multilevel cell flash technology called StrataFlash, said Alan Niebel, an analyst at Web-Feet Research in Monterey, Calif. Like AMD's MirrorBit technology, StrataFlash increases memory density by storing two flash bits in a single cell.
Niebel said the Saifun deal -- though still two years from bearing fruit -- could force Intel to hastily choose between developing a four-bits-per-cell flash technology or settling on one of the various future technologies it's investigating, including polymeric ferroelectric RAM, Ovonyx unified memory, or magnetic RAM.
High-density non-volatile memory is seen as a necessity for 3G mobile handsets that are expected to download voice, text, and video. Niebel forecasts data storage in wireless and solid-state applications will represent 40% of flash revenue by 2006, up from 15% in 2001.
Saifun, based in Netanya, Israel, has also licensed its NROM technology to Fairchild Semiconductor, Macronix, and foundry Tower Semiconductor. The company is privately funded, including strategic investments from Infineon, M-Systems Flash-Disk Pioneers, and Tower.