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Intel, Micron Claim To Boost Solid-State Drive Speeds By 500%

The NAND flash memory chips can reach speeds of up to 200 MB per second for reading data and 100 MB per second for writing data, the partners said.

Intel and Micron Technology on Friday said they have developed technology for a high-speed solid-state drive that's five times faster than current products used in consumer and professional devices ranging from handheld computers and notebooks to digital cameras and camcorders.

The NAND flash memory chips developed jointly by the two companies can reach speeds of up to 200 MB per second for reading data and 100 MB per second for writing data, the partners said. Current memory chips have maximum read-write speeds of 40 MB and 20 MB, respectively.

Solid-state drives are used for storage today in just about any electronic device that holds data. Current technology is fast enough for handling photos and standard video in computers or an Apple iPod, but performance problems become an issue in handling high-definition video, which consumers are expected to start demanding as they become accustomed to watching HD televisions. HDTVs are among the hottest selling consumer electronics products today.

With HD video files requiring multiple gigabytes of storage, the need for technology that can move the content in and out of a storage device quickly, so it can be played on a handheld gadget or recorded in a camcorder, becomes critical. Other applications include digital photography, where faster storage would translate into faster shutter speeds for sports photography, for example.

"These are all areas where performance does matter and consumers or users are willing to pay for it," Joe Unsworth, analyst for Gartner told InformationWeek. "These products are going to have a premium associated with it."

Being able to charge more for a faster solid-state drive is important because memory is mostly a commodity market today, where manufacturers compete for business on price. With current technology good enough for use in Apple iPods and smart phones, most consumers would be unwilling to pay more for a faster drive.

As a result, Micron and Intel are expected to try to differentiate themselves from the pack with speed, and consumers and professionals who want it are likely to be willing to pay more. "We don't expect this high-performance NAND [flash memory] to be widespread," Unsworth said. "But when you're talking video and professional photography, companies are willing to pay that premium to have that performance [in products]."

Micron is expected to release a high-speed 8 GB solid-state drive in the second half of the year, with higher-capacity products expected to follow later, Unsworth said.

Micron will manufacture flash memory devices with the new technology through IM Flash Technologies, the company's joint venture with Intel.

The faster solid-state storage technology is emerging at the same time as new interface standards. One important standard is ONFI 2.0, which stands for open NAND flash interface. The specification makes it possible to move larger amounts of data faster to and from a digital camera or within a notebook, where a solid-state drive is being used in place of a traditional hard disk drive. SSDs are far more expensive than HDDs, but they are also more rugged and reliable and faster, making them desirable in some applications, such as in devices used by the military or utility workers.

Micron's and Intel's latest technology supports ONFI 2.0. In addition, future high-speed SSDs developed by the companies also will support USB 3.0, which is considerably faster than current USB 2.0 ports commonly used in computers today, and PCI express, which is the specification for slots on a motherboard where peripherals, such as graphics cards, are attached.

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