A breakthrough in flash memory will result in roomier smartphones and media players, and possibly lower prices for solid state drives.
Intel-Micron Flash Technologies announced the first-ever flash memory chip to use a 25 nm manufacturing process. That’s only nine billionths of a meter less than the companies’ existing 34 nm process, but it’ll allow them to fit twice as much memory on a single flash die. Rival memory maker Samsung is still working on a 30 nm process, so Intel and Micron are ahead of the pack.
Think of it this way: A 167mm flash die, which PC World says is small enough to fit through the hole of a CD, can now store 8 GB of data. That means iPods, iPads or smartphones with built-in flash memory could get a capacity boost. Solid state drives will be able to hold more data as well, making them more competitive with hard disk drives.
Intel and Micron haven’t announced a product that uses the technology, but they plan to enter production in the second quarter. They’re offering chip samples to gadget makers so they can be included in future designs. New products using the 25 nm process could appear later this year.
The big question, especially for SSD fans, is price. Objective Analysis estimates that the 25 nm flash chips will cost 50 cents per GB to manufacture, compared to $1.75 per GB for an industry standard 40 nm chip. However, the firm expects market price for flash chips as a whole to stay around $2 per GB this year.
Still, the last time Intel switched to a better manufacturing process — from 50 nm to 34 nm — the result was a 60 percent price cut for its solid state drives, bringing the cost of 160 GB drives to $440 for up to 1,000 units. Intel won’t say whether a similar price cut is on the way, but it’s possible. While flash drives will benefit either way, this could be the breakthrough SSD needs to go mainstream.