BOISE, Idaho -- DRAM giant Micron Technology Inc. aims to turn itself into a Top 10 flash memory supplier by 2002. To do that, the company has begun ramping up volume production of low-power flash devices here for wireless handsets, and today, Micron officially introduced its first SyncFlash chip, which replaces synchronous DRAMs in a range of embedded nonvolatile memory applications.
The wireless-targeted flash chips--launched into production during the third quarter--and the new SyncFlash are both expected to play a key role in Micron's attempts to diversify itself from being nearly totally dominated by DRAM sales. In 2000, only 5-to-6% of Micron's total bit volume and dollar revenues will come from a combination of flash and SRAM products, but in 2001 the company aims to increase that portion to 12%, said Bryan Connington, flash marketing manager at Micron.
Micron is now ranked No. 12 or 13 among the world's flash suppliers, but it intends to move into the Top 10 by early 2002, Connington said. Currently, the company's flash sales are mostly made up of nonvolatile memories sold to digital camera makers (for private labeling) and industry-standard, boot-block chips, which are used to store basic input-output (BIOS) firmware in systems, such as PCs.
"We will grow nearly four-and-a-half times in flash shipments this year, but the market has grown faster because of the addition of nearly 180 million handsets," noted Connington, referring to the explosive growth in cellular phones. While some cell phone forecasts for near-term growth have been eased back a bit recently, Micron believes it can still jump aboard the surge in wireless flash demand in 2001.
And then comes Micron's next flash weapon: SyncFlash, a unique nonvolatile chip architecture that allows flash memory to reside on the same bus and use the same memory controller as SDRAMs. The SyncFlash has the ability to read data from nonvolatile storage on 100-MHz buses used by SDRAMs. The new flash architecture also uses the same controllers as SDRAM, enabling system designers to use SyncFlash in place of extra dynamic random access memories in embedded applications, such as set-top boxes, telecommunication devices, hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs), printers, networked peripherals, and third-generation cellular phones.
Micron first disclosed the SyncFlash architecture last year during the fall Comdex computer show (see Nov. 22 story). Now, Micron is announcing samples of the first part--a 64-megabit chip (organized 1-Mbit-by-16 in four banks of memory for simultaneous read and write operations). In sample quantities, the 64-Mbit SyncFlash sells for about $20 each.
The 3.3-volt 64-Mbit SyncFlashe is slated to be in volume production during the first half of 2001, using Micron's 0.22-micron process technology. In the first quarter of 2001, the company expects to introduce a faster 143-HMz 64-Mbit SyncFlash, fabricated with 0.18-micron technology. A 128-Mbit SyncFlash is set for introduction in the third quarter next year, using 0.15-micron technology.
And the company is also working hard to build up market and design support. In August, Micron received JEDEC approval for an industry standard pinout for SyncFlash. It is now working with equipment makers, processor suppliers, and at least one other flash memory maker, which is expected to provide a needed second-source for SyncFlash chips.
"We anticipate an announcement by the end of the year," Connington said. "That will be a major flash memory vendor," he added, declining to name the supplier in an interview with SBN.
On other fronts, Micron is in negotiations with nearly all of the major suppliers of processors and controllers to include interfaces for the new architecture next year, according to Connington. "We estimate by the end of 2001, we will have 10 processors that have native SyncFlash support," he added.
Until processors and controllers are available with "native support" for SyncFlash, Micron is showing system designers how to create "glue" interfaces with a small amount of programmable logic. The SyncFlash enables systems to boot up faster and respond to users without delays that normally occur when standard flash devices load firmware into SDRAM for processor execution. One example of cost saving shows a set-top box design eliminating about $5 of SDRAM by executing the firmware directly out of SyncFlash on the 100-MHz bus.