4 February 2002 Semiconductor giant Intel is set to unveil a radical new approach to memory chip design at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in Silicon Valley, this week.
Based on a technology called ovonics, a method of changing amorphous substances into a crystalline state, the science can be used to generate binary code and thereby read and write data much faster than traditional flash memory chips.
Although already tested in nickel-hydride batteries and re-writeable CDs, the application of ovonics to memory chips is relatively new. The main benefit is that data can be continually re-written without it wearing out and therefore destroying data – the main stumbling block with traditional flash memory chips.
Data can be written to ovonic-based memory chips more than a trillion times, claims Intel, compared to just a million in standard flash memory chips. Intel believes the development could mean ovonic memory chips will replace current flash memory in mobile phones and other major applications within three to five years.
At the same time, Intel is set to unveil more details about its forthcoming 64-bit microprocessor called McKinley, the successor to the disappointing Itanium. It is expected to be released around the middle of the year.
Intel says that McKinley processes data at twice the speed of the Itanium microprocessor. The increase in speed is partly due to the fact that it has a larger memory cache on the chip itself, which will make it one of the biggest microprocessors ever made.
However, its size could also prove to be problematic. Its large form factor will make McKinley expensive to manufacture, because it will dramatically reduce the number of McKinley chips that can be made from one silicon wafer – a significant part of the cost of chip-making.
McKinley is the second 64-bit microprocessor to be launched by Intel and will be followed by chips codenamed Madison, Monteciot and Chivano. Intel hopes that it will sell better than its predecessor, which arrived several years late and was received poorly in the market, despite much hype.