Flash! Intel's Chip Has Some Zippy Competition

Intel Corp. is the world leader in advanced memory chips that retain data for long periods, even when the power is switched off. This year, it will sell at least 60 million so-called flash memories. But flash now faces a challenger--a new breed of chip that performs the same trick, rewrites data faster, and consumes less power.

The new ferroelectric random-access memories (FERAMs) store information as tiny dots of ceramic film deposited on silicon. The dots are switched on by a faint electric field. Unlike popular dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips, which require constant refreshing, FERAM films remain polarized until a reverse voltage is applied, which cuts power consumption. Earlier this year, Matsushita Electronics Corp., working with Symetrix Corp. in Colorado Springs, Colo., announced FERAMs that can rewrite data 50 times faster than flash chips, using one-sixth as much electricity. In May, the Osaka-based giant licensed the technology to Motorola Inc., which wants to use it in handheld radio equipment. Another Colorado Springs startup, Ramtron International Corp., which created similar devices with Hitachi Ltd., has received large orders from gamemaker Sega Enterprises Ltd. Hitachi estimates that FERAM chip sales will exceed $600 million by 1996.

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