FASL ships much of the NOR flash memory used in mobile phones. According to Bertrand Cambou, executive vice president at AMD and CEO of FASL, about seven out of ten handsets in China contain AMD-branded flash and they ship nearly 500 million flash chips each quarter. NOR flash can be accessed without the need for error checking, and is used to store program code within cell phones like phones numbers. NAND flash memory is less beefy but cheaper to produce, and it is also faster than NOR.
Fujitsu AMD Semiconductor sells two types of flash, the 'Spansion' NOR flash, and MirrorBit an AMD-designed flash memory that stores twice as much data per flash cell.
|Cambou argued that today's MirrorBit technology offers may of the advantages of NAND, which is traditionally cheaper to manufacture. By the end of 2004, he projected, the manufacturing cost of both types of flash will be roughly equal. "MirrorBit is a disruptive technology, with the cost of NAND and the quality of NOR," he said.
In the future, FASL hopes to penetrate the NAND market with a version of MirrorBit optimized for NAND memory. Called "NAND-on-MirrorBit," the technology is currently under development and could be commercialized by 2006, Cambou said.
In addition, AMD engineers are developing a 64-Mbit serial flash for the same timeframe, which would be optimized for high performance. AMD is also designing a more conventional 512-Mbit MirrorBit optimized for data storage that AMD hopes to ship during 2004.
FASL and AMD aren't alone in the search for improved flash technology. In October, Intel disclosed a technology that will offer NAND-type functionality for NOR memory. Intel's offerings will begin sampling this month, and enter production next February.
With the growth of consumer digital products, flash memory is almost ubiquitous. The growth in the market has caused flash prices to act like its cheaper cousin, DRAM. The falling flash prices prompted AMD to move its flash business to the FASL subsidiary, although, the profits and revenues of the flash business appear on AMD's balance sheet.
Last quarter AMD his processor section returned a profit of $19 million while his flash devision lost $49 million. AMD expects that during this quarter its flash business will break even.