Two semiconductor hold-outs appear to be heading into a strategic alliance. Later this month, Japan's NEC and Samsung Electronics of South Korea will agree to swap research data on the basic technology for 256-megabit dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips. Such devices should become mainstream in computers toward the end of this decade, but building them is a lot like trying to draw a street map of the entire world on your fingernail. Most DRAM players already have formed partnerships to share costs and risks: Hitachi with Texas Instruments, Fujitsu with Hyundai, and IBM with Toshiba and Siemens. NEC, with $7.7 billion in semiconductor sales, has produced some stunning designs for DRAM "cells." But Samsung enjoys strong government backing, and its coffers are flush with cash.
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