By Robert Menta- 11/26/01
In a joint announcement today Sand Disk and Toshiba introduced a 1Gbit NAND flash memory chip that will significantly increase the present capacity of flash media used in MP3 portables and digital cameras.
The higher capacity is achieved through multi-level cell (MLC) technology developed by SanDisk that allows two bits of data to be stored in one memory cell, doubling memory capacity. Two 1Gbit dies also can be stacked in a single TSOP (Thin Small Outline Package) and this will allow the production of up to 2Gbit flash memory cards. The new flash chip will be manufactured on the same 0.16 micron process that is currently used in the production of the 512Megabit chip.
Presently, CompactFlash cards top out at 512MB and they are expensive, running about $350. Despite significant price drops over the last year, flash media has lost ground in the digital music arena to various competing storage formats that hold more information for less money. This includes laptop drives that power the popular MP3 jukebox portables, MP3-laden CDs, Iomega's PocketZip, and IBM's Microdrive (which fits into a CompactFlash slot). All have their pluses and minuses, but none have the size, weight, and power use advantages of flash media.
That is why this doubling effect is so important a step for the flash media market as it will drive memory prices down even further, making them more attractive to MP3 player manufacturers who's success is directly related to that balance of capacity, size, and cost in their products. Consumers want more than the 64MB of storage most digital music portables come with, but not all want to jump to the heavy jukebox players.
Think of Panasonic's tiny SV-SD80 - which the company bills as the World's Smallest MP3 Player - with a 2Gbit card in it and you immediately see the potential for flash media to grab back markert share. Of course, the 2Gbit card will be introduced a a price way above what would make reasonable sense for an MP3 player, but as with all ground-breaking technology prices will drop. In the meantime, 256MB and 512MB should become quite affordable. SanDisk has not yet announced a price point for their new line of flash cards.
In a company press release SanDisk CEO and President Eli Harari said, "This announcement represents a technological breakthrough and a crowning achievement for the many Toshiba and SanDisk personnel who have worked so closely together on this project for many months. This MLC gigabit technology should provide both SanDisk and Toshiba with a highly competitive cost structure".
SanDisk is looking at the first half of 2002 for production to begin on cards using the 1Gbit technology. SanDisk has already introduced a prototype 1 Gigabyte CompactFlash card at Comdex and will develop this technology for the CompactFlash, MultiMedia card (MMC), and Secure Digital card formats.
The 1Gbit NAND memory chips will be manufactured jointly by both companies in Toshiba's advanced fabrication production facility at Yokkaichi, Japan, and at the Dominion Semiconductor manufacturing plant in Virginia under the FlashVision Joint Venture established by Toshiba and SanDisk. Both companies will then independently market the chips.
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