Sharp Corp. has joined the ranks of flash memory chipmakers producing multilevel-cell (MLC) flash technology, which doubles a chip's memory capacity without a commensurate increase in die area.
The company last week began shipping production quantities of a NOR-type 2.7V, 64Mbit MLC flash chip, with a 128Mbit version slated to sample in July. By the end of this year, Sharp plans to launch 1.8V MLC parts in 128- and 256Mbit densities.
According to Sharp, the 2.7V products are designed for networking, industrial, and set-top-box OEMs with design activities in North America, while the 1.8V parts will target customers designing feature-rich cellular handsets.
"We definitely see that volumes potentially could spike going into the end of this year on MLC flash," said Mark Hampson, senior product marketing manager at Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas, Camas, Wash. "In 2003 the sweet spot for production phones is 64Mbits."
The industrywide shift to MLC flash is intended to provide a cost-effective way to bump up density to support high-end features. For NOR flash suppliers, the move is crucial to head off encroachment by less expensive, higher-density NAND flash in NOR's mainstay application of handsets, Hampson said.
"NOR is starting to feel pressure from NAND in the cell phone arena," he said. "We're trying to bring down the price per bit to a point where it doesn't make sense to go with NAND."
Though Sharp's flash technology is characterized as "Intel-compatible," Sharp didn't follow Intel Corp.'s lead in recently raising flash IC prices, and claims to have picked up market share as a result. According to Semico Research Corp., Phoenix, Sharp's share of the overall flash market increased to 8% in 2002 from 7% in 2001, even as the NOR portion of the market contracted by more than $2 billion.
Sharp's MLC structure stores multiple levels of an electrical charge within a single cell to double bit density.
The new parts feature high-performance page mode, which allows code execution to be conducted directly from flash, eliminating wait states. A one-time program block provides an area to store secure code and protect code from erasure.
The MLC devices are manufactured at Sharp's Fab 4 in Fukuyama, Japan, using 0.18-micron CMOS. The 1.8V MLC parts will be produced in 0.13-micron CMOS.
In 56-lead TSOPs, the 64-bit LH-28F640SPHT-PTL12 is offered at $14.45 in quantities of 100, or $13.48 in quantities of 1,000.