Intel teams with Micron for flash memory

Intel teams with Micron for flash memory

SAN FRANCISCO: Intel and Micron Technology are forming a new company to manufacture NAND flash memory chips.

To be called IM Flash Technologies, the new firm will exclusively produce flash memory for Intel and Micron targeting the consumer electronics, removable storage and handheld communication device markets.

Intel and Micron will each contribute about $US1.2 billion to the new joint venture, and are likely to invest an additional $US1.4 billion each over the next three years.

By combining manufacturing technologies and expertise, Intel and Micron hope to compete in the vibrant and profitable NAND business and already have their first major customer, Apple Computer.

NAND flash memory continues to be a very hot product area since the memory chips are used in a wide range of consumer electronics device including digital cameras and Apple's iPod music players.

Flash memory can store data without a constant supply of electricity. Memory in a PC or server can only store data when the power is on, and hard drives with moving parts are needed to store data after the device is shut down.

Intel and Micron hope to finalise the formation of IM Flash by year-end, subject to unspecified closing conditions.

The two companies also announced that they have entered into separate long-term agreements to provide Apple with a significant portion of IM Flash's NAND flash memory. Apple is to prepay $US250 million each to Intel and Micron.

IM Flash will be 51 per cent owned by Micron and 49 per cent owned by Intel. The first products are likely to appear early next year.

In a recent report from market researcher, iSuppli, Samsung had a 50.2 per cent share of the NAND flash memory market at the end of the third quarter. Although Micron was ranked in fifth position with only 3.4 per cent, the revenue the company derived from flash memory chips increased fourfold over the second quarter, according to iSuppli.

The new joint venture should help smaller music player and expansion card vendors breathe easier in the coming year, according to an iSuppli research note released after the Intel and Micron announcement.

Apple could account for about 25 per cent of the global market for NAND memory next year, according to iSuppli.

This situation has constrained supply for other music player vendors, such as Creative Labs, whose president warned last month that the company's second-half results could be affected.

Intel's investment in IM Flash Technologies will allow the company to develop expertise in NAND flash memory.

Currently, Intel only makes NOR flash memory, which has been the traditional flash memory of choice for mobile phones and personal digital assistants. However, iSuppli has predicted revenues from NAND memory will surpass NOR this year for the first time, increasing to $US15.4 billion next year.

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