SANTA CLARA, Calif. Intel Corp. has unveiled its first flash memory device produced with its 180-nm (0.18-micron) manufacturing process. With demand for flash chips way up and constrained capacity defining the market, smaller line widths will deliver nearly twice as many die on a single wafer as the current 0.25-micron process.
Eventually, Intel will roll out six product lines based on this flash process, but the first product is a a shrink version of its 32-Mbit advanced boot-block product that is 35 percent smaller, with 80-ns access that is 20 ns faster than the 0.25-micron part. It runs at the same 3 V but allows for longer standby time in its prime application cellular phones because it draws 40 percent less power in standby mode.
The 32-Mbit part is sampling and will ramp into volume next quarter; 16- and 64-Mbit versions will roll out next year on the 180-nm process. Intel also will introduce later this year a 1.8-V product line using the same process, at an initial density of 64 Mbits.
Troy Winslow, platform launch team manager for Intel's flash products division, said that the 64-Mbit designs are half the size of 64-Mbit chips produced with a 0.25-micron process.
"Right now, the industry is scrambling to meet the demand for flash parts, and Intel is investing about $2 billion in our 0.18-micron flash production capacity," he said. "By next year, we will have five fabs making flash at 0.18 micron."
In the past two years, the flash memory market has exploded, driven mainly by the worldwide demand for cellular phones. Not only are more people using the handheld devices, but the units also are becoming more powerful and, therefore, require more flash. Intel estimates that the average cellular handset today uses 18 Mbits of flash memory.
That's double the 9 Mbits used two years ago and less than half the projected 40 Mbits that future phones will demand in order to perform advanced functions such as implem enting a full-speed Internet browser on a color screen. Set-top boxes are another major flash destination, and the average system today requires 40 Mbits of flash memory.
Some analysts predict that the world's total cellular subscribers will top 1 billion within the next three years, and that growth mirrors the explosion in flash sales. According to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics, the total shipments in flash devices swelled by 120 percent between the second quarter of 1998 and the end of 1999, and Winslow said there is no end in sight to that growth.
In this market, he expects the additional capacity from the smaller die will allow Intel to ship larger volumes of flash chips. And, despite the extra performance that comes from finer geometries, Intel will not be charging a premium. In 10,000-unit shipments, the first 0.18-micron boot-block part will be listed at $13.80, down from the $15.10 the company charges for a 0.25-micron version of the same device.
"Our costs are going down beca use we can get more die on a wafer," said Winslow. "And we are going to pass those savings on to our customers. Hopefully that will allow us to sell a whole lot of them."