January 14, 2004 11:35 AM PST

Intel enlists Nanosys for memory help

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Intel has entered into a limited technology alliance with Nanosysy, one of the more visible nanotechnology start-ups, to help the chipmaker overcome technological roadblocks in memory chips.

Under the deal, Intel and Nanosys will work together "on certain areas of memory-related technologies for a set period of time" according to Nanosys. Intel, which invested in Nanosys last May, also will support technology development at the start-up.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nanosys specializes in licensing intellectual property in the nanotechnology field, the art of building products out of components measuring less than 100 nanometers long. The company's patent portfolio is applicable to products in the information technology market, medicine and other fields.

The company is one of the big proponents of silicon nanowires, thin strands of silicon atoms that could replace traditional transistors in chips in a decade or so. Newfangled as they sound, nanowires were first described in a Bell Labs paper published in 1964, according to Stanford engineering professor Yoshio Nishi.

Intel has already signaled an interest in nanowires, stating that they, along with carbon nanotubes, could be used to make chips in the future.

It is not certain where or how Nanosys' technology will be applied by Intel. Intel does not make traditional computer memory, DDR DRAM. Instead, the company makes flash memory used to store data or programs in cell phones and handhelds. Researchers have said that flash memory needs to be radically changed over the next few years to continue to advance. Several companies--Motorola, IBM, and start-ups such as Matrix Semiconductor--are working on alternatives.

To date, Intel has put most of its efforts to find an alternative to traditional flash architectures into Ovonics, which involves making memory out of the same material used to make CDs. Some small companies are already helping Intel in this regard. It is unclear whether the Nanosys deal involved Ovonics or another alternative.

Intel also makes memory that gets inserted onto processors as cache.


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