Intel and Micron Double the Capacity of Flash Memory

Smaller features will usher in instant-on computers

3 min read
Intel and Micron Double the Capacity of Flash Memory

16 March 2010—Flash memory stores data permanently without draining the battery, but it packs less data in a given space than hard drives do. It’s looking better, though, now that Intel and Micron Technology have produced a flash chip with features measuring only 25 nanometers, down from the standard 34 nm. Other flash makers are expected to follow into the sub-30-nm region in coming months, as well. By doubling the storage capacity, the achievement makes it possible to produce cheaper and more powerful smart handheld devices. It also shows that flash still has legs and should therefore continue to improve for at least a few more years.

The companies announced that their joint venture, Intel-Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT), would begin selling this ”nonvolatile” memory—which retains data after the current is switched off—in the second quarter of this year. The companies will incorporate it into products, such as USB storage devices, that consumers will see later this year.

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Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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