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Intel, STMicroelectronics Ship Memory Prototypes For Evaluation

The phase-change memory device, which stores 128 Mbits on a 90-nanometer chip, is being tested as a faster alternative to conventional flash memory.

Intel and STMicroelectronics on Wednesday said they have shipped to customers the prototype of a new memory technology that the companies are pushing as a faster alternative to traditional flash memory.

The technology, called phase-change memory, is being shown in a memory device codenamed Alverstone. The device shipped for evaluation stores 128 Mbits on a 90-nanometer chip. Cellular and embedded customers are expected to test the PCM features to see whether the technology can be incorporated in future system designs, Intel and STMicroelectronics said in a joint statement.

PCM is a type of non-volatile computer memory that's being offered as a rival to the almost universal flash memory, which has become a low-margin, commodity product. Proponents say PCM devices have faster read and write speeds at lower power than conventional flash. Manufacturers are expected to seek a premium for the higher-performing devices.

In related news, Intel and STMicroelectronics said they presented this week a research paper describing a breakthrough in PCM technology. The paper, presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, describes a high-density, multi-level cell large memory device using PCM technology, the companies said. Moving from a single bit per cell to a MLC significantly increases the density, or storage capacity, of the memory at a lower cost per megabyte.

Intel and STMicroelectronics formed a joint development program in 2003 to work on PCM. Development of the new technology will eventually be turned over to Numonyx, a multi-billion-dollar independent semiconductor company formed by Intel, STMicroelectronics, and private equity firm Francisco Partners.

In December, the partners delayed the closing of the Numonyx deal until March 28. The delay stemmed from having to revise financing after banks committed to about half the loan amount as originally planned.

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