Matrix delivers on 3D memory chip promise

Nearly three years after Matrix Semiconductor first announced plans to offer write-once memory chips based on a 3D design...

Nearly three years after Matrix Semiconductor first announced plans to offer write-once memory chips based on a 3D design technology, the chips are in volume production.

Dan Steere, Matrix's vice-president of sales and marketing, said the company expected to ship a million 3D memory chips to customers this month. "We'll always be less expensive than flash," he said, adding that Matrix could be shipping millions of the chips every month within 12 months.

Memory cards based on Matrix's write-once chips are aimed at companies that want to distribute content such as music, video or games on cards designed for use with portable devices, including mobile phones. "There is a large, unmet need for getting content and getting it into a portable device," said Steere.

3D memory chips increase the density of memory cells on a chip by stacking them in layers. Vertically stacking the cells fits more into a smaller area, reducing the size of the chip. This in turn means more chips can be put on a single silicon wafer, thereby cutting manufacturing costs.

The second-generation chips currently in production are made with a 0.15-micron process. The first generation used a 0.25-micron process. The generational advance in process technology has allowed Matrix to reduce the size of the chips, putting more onto a single silicon wafer and reducing unit costs.

When Matrix first announced plans to sell memory chips based on its 3D design technology, it said they would hit the market in 2002. That never happened, and for nearly two years the company did not explain why.

But earlier this year, Matrix began to once again talk about its plans for 3D memory chips. The company came clean about the delayed introduction, saying that production of the 3D design had proven more difficult than expected.

In October, the company announced its first customer, Mattel, which uses the chips in cartridges for its Juice Box, a personal media player designed for kids that went on sale in the US last month.

Steere said Matrix expected to announce another customer before the end of the year but would not provide further details.

Sumner Lemon writes for IDG News Service

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