Intel to recast flash?

Reports say Intel may sell its NOR Flash Memory Group to a third party in a three-way deal that also involves STMicroelectronics
Written by John G. Spooner, Contributor

Intel’s reorganization hasn’t happened in a flash. The chipmaker, which announced last September that it would cut 10,500 jobs, in addition to paring down its non-essential businesses to cut costs and become more efficient, continues to work through the plan.

Now the company is preparing to unveil a new plan for its Flash Memory Group, according to a January 15 report in The Jerusalem Post. The paper is reporting that Intel, which is expected to report revenue of $9.44 billion and earnings per share of 25 cents for the forth quarter after the close of the stock market today, may also announce the sale of its NOR Flash Memory Group to a third party in a three-way deal that also involves STMicroelectronics. The deal would combine Intel and STIMicro NOR flash operations and give each of the three companies equal stakes in the new business. (NOR flash is the more performance-oriented version of the two types of flash and is thus is used to execute code. NAND flash is generally used to store data.)

Ostensibly, the NOR deal would allow Intel to continue having a hand in the NOR flash market while cutting down its expenses and leaving it to focus on its PC processor business. This would be similar to IM Flash Technologies, Intel's joint venture with Micron Technologies, which is dedicated to NAND flash.

IM Flash, launched in November 2005, recently announced the arrival of 50-nanometer production, which will allow it to produce 16-gigabit NAND memory chips that hold up to 2-gigabytes of data each.


Just like it did with IM Flash, Intel would contribute employees and manufacturing capacity to the NOR deal. The chipmaker has already consolidated its NOR operations, including manufacturing, research and development and product support, into its NOR Flash Product Group. Meanwhile, combining the STMicro and Intel flash groups also makes sense in that they have been working together for some time. Most recently, they have developed one potential flash memory successor, dubbed Phase Change Memory or PCM.

The bottom line for most end-customers is Intel selling its NOR group—or not—isn’t  likely to change much, if anything about the way a cellular phones places a call in the near-term. Although a sale would help improve Intel’s financial position and, over time, has the potential to speed the arrival of PCM and other new technologies. Those, you can be sure, will show up in end products at some point.

Meanwhile, some are expecting Intel to beat the street, despite the worry that intense price competition that cut AMD's revenue and profit for quarter may also have hurt Intel. One thing’s for sure:  Intel’s fourth quarter report will shed light on its first full quarter of Core Microarchitecture processor sales and give some insight into the company’s outlook for 2007.

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