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Could Micron buy Numonyx?

Intel's flash children could be reunited

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NAND flash chip manufacturer and Intel partner Micron could be looking to buy Intel offspring and NOR flash manufacturer Numonyx, according to an EE Times report.

This would enable Intel to get out of Numonyx, Micron to get into the NOR flash business, and get its hands on Numonyx's phase-change memory technology.

Numonyx is a joint venture between Intel, which owns 45 per cent, and STMicroelectronics, which has 49 per cent. Financial service company Francisco Partners owns the rest, and invested $150m when Numonyx was formed in 2008. The flash operations contributed by both Intel and STMicroelectronics were unprofitable. It is not known if Numonyx is profitable.

NOR flash is typically used in mobile phones, whereas NAND flash is used more in general computing products. Smart phones are tending to consume more and more NAND.

Intel and Micron are partners in IM Flash Technologies which is a NAND chip foundry. At one time it was thought that Intel wanted to be shot of the flash business altogether. The setting up of Numonyx and IM Flash Technologies was seen as laying stepping stones to a flash-free state.

Now Intel is selling disk drive replacement X18 and X25 flash modules as well as developing flash-on-motherboard Braidwood technology. Its partner Micron is developing PCIe-connected flash solid state drives, and we hear no more flash divestiture talk from Intel. However, it may be quite happy to buy flash dice from arms-length foundries and trusted partners.

Phase-change memory (PCM), which stores binary digits via state changes in cells rather than as a magnetic direction, can scale down to much smaller process geometries than NAND flash which is forecast to hit a wall in a few years time. PCM also has the promise of being faster to access than flash and be byte-addressable instead of having to be written to and erased in blocks.

The NAND flash market has recently seen a firming up of prices after foundry over-capacity has been mothballed.

Both Micron and Numonyx say they don't comment on rumours. ®

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