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Is Numonyx' delay behind Intel's late PCM rollout?

Posted: 11 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Numonyx? phase-change memory? Intel PCM technology?

The press release trumpets the delivery of samples of phase-change memory on Feb. 6 as a major success. But it begs the question: Why is Intel running more than six months late with its delivery of phase-change memory?

Of course on one level, the arrival of phase-change memory, a significantly different memory type to what has gone before, is a success. And for a memory that has been meant to be coming for 30 years, what's six months between friends?

The press release from Intel said: "Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics reached a key industry milestone today as they began shipping prototype samples of a future product using a new, innovative memory technology called phase-change memory (PCM). The prototypes are the first functional silicon to be delivered to customers for evaluation, bringing the technology one step closer to adoption."

The press release went on to do Intel's usual marketing thing of giving the design a name, in this case Alverstone. Alverstone is a 128Mbit device built on 90nm and is intended to allow memory customers to evaluate PCM features, allowing cellular and embedded customers to learn more about PCM and how it can be incorporated into their future system designs, the press release said.

But notice the use of the word "today." Intel is saying that Intel and ST didn't ship functional prototype samples of phase-change memory before Feb. 6.

Wind back the clock nearly a year. In March 2007, Intel organized a teleconference in which it told listeners that it was preparing to sample a 90nm 128Mbit phase change memory to customers in 1H 2007. When asked when the phase-change memory would go into mass production, Ed Doller, then chief technology officer of the flash memory group at Intel, said: "We're hoping we can see production by the end of the year, but that depends on the customers."

Numonyx delay
Doller is now chief technology officer-designate of Numonyx, the flash memory company being formed by the sell-off of the memory groups within ST and Intel. And that may be cluebecause the formation of Numonyx is running about, you guessed it, six months late.

Intel and ST started working together on PCM in 2003. Development of the technology is due to be turned over to Numonyx. In December 2007 Intel, Francisco Partners and STMicroelectronics announced they had delayed the closing of the deal to form Numonyx to March 28, 2008. The original deadline for the memory venture was supposedly Jan. 1, 2008, analysts said. At that time, Numonyx was supposed to be a full-fledged and independent company, they added. The delay stemmed from having to revise financing after banks committed to about half the loan amount as originally planned.

So perhaps there is not much point in sampling the phase-change memory until you have a manufacturing, sales and marketing organization in place to follow up and deliver the same chips in volume? Although I would have thought Intel and ST would want to get the samples out as quickly as possible to try and create some demand and speed up the time-to-money. But certainly there is little point in trumpeting the fact that you are sampling until you are sure there is going to be an operation to benefit from the publicity.

It's either that or did Intel and ST have a round of silicon, which they had to respin?

If anyone knows the reasons, apart from the exigencies of marketing, as to why the sampling is happening now, or being announced now, by all means get in touch.

- Peter Clarke
EE Times Europe

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