Reusing the old equipment for new chips
Knight sees a market for Nanochip's technology in USB drives, solid-state disk drives and even enterprise servers. In each case, he believes, there are advantages with array-based memory.
Unlike flash NAND, where the frequently-changing lithography requires construction of ever-pricier manufacturing plants, Nanochip can manufacture its chips on existing low-cost semiconductor equipment, according to Marlene Bourne, head of analyst firm The Bourne Report. They're using used equipment [and] adapting to their needs," she says. "Same machinery, same equipment, same materials, same basic processing steps. You're just creating three-dimensional objects instead of a flat [integrated circuit]." That will hold true, she says, even as the company increases the density of its chips. That could provide a cost advantage over solid-state drives, which are currently in the range of US$15 to US$18 per gigabyte.
Like solid-state drives, array-based memory requires no motor, which reduces its power consumption and heat output in comparison with spinning disk hard drives, says Lai. The mechanism used to move the probes is very low power, he says. Because they don't require "a hundred pieces to make the hard drive work," Lai says he believes Nanochip products will be more rugged.
Unlike traditional disk drives in servers, says Knight, his company's technology prevents the queuing problems that surface when multiple users try to access data. "When you have an array of these chips, you have many, many points of access," he says. An internal controller inside the Nanochip sends the tips down to locate specific data, which is returned in multiplex form and output in serial form, "just like the output of a NAND flash drive or disk drive -- but in fact, the data is spread out over a few hundred tips."
Array-based technology isn't something new and unique, says Bourne. Nanochip is simply applying it in a slightly different way. "The tips that form the core of this memory technology are what's being used in atomic force microscopes," she points out.