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Interview: 3-D chips ready for prime time, Matrix says

Interview: 3-D chips ready for prime time, Matrix says

Founded in 1998, Matrix Semiconductor Inc. pioneered the design and development of three-dimensional (3-D) memory chips, which it claims can cost less to produce than flash memory chips.

Founded in 1998, Matrix Semiconductor Inc. pioneered the design and development of three-dimensional (3-D) memory chips, which it claims can cost less to produce than flash memory chips. The secret is in the company's 3-D design technology. Memory chips consist of a layer of cells sitting atop a wafer, with several layers of interconnects above to carry the signals around. Matrix's latest chips stack four layers of the memory cells on the chip, saving space and reducing per-chip manufacturing costs.

Matrix's investors include Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. Its chips, which can be written with data only one time, have so far found limited use in products including electronic dictionaries from Sharp Corp. and Mattel Inc.'s Juice Box personal media player.

Matrix Chief Operating Officer Siva Sivaram spoke with IDG News Service in Tokyo recently about the company's plans. Following is an edited transcript.

IDGNS: What's in your technology for the consumer, and who is going to buy your memory?

Sivaram: In the phase of prerecorded content that we are approaching, the archival quality of the solid-state media we are promising is unmatched. Archival ability is not available in any other nonvolatile media today. You put content in our memory and it is going to stay there for 100 years. It's a big deal. And then there is the price point. That's what the consumer is going to see.

IDGNS: Matrix went quiet for a while. What happened?

Sivaram: In the fall of 2001, we were very close to production. Between then and 2003, when we started shipping, we spent a lot of time refining the technology, making it manufacturable and producing a product we could ship to customers.

IDGNS: What were the technical issues?

Sivaram: They were all with respect to developing something in the R&D lab, making a prototype, scaling it to a production version and making one million units in a month with perfect quality. That learning curve is what took the time.

IDGNS: You have Juicebox and Sharp. What's next?

Sivaram: Our target markets are portable gaming, prerecorded audio for MP3 players, prerecorded video, PDAs, updatabale content for cell phones. We can't talk about our customers and their plans because they have to make the announcements.

IDGNS: How about Nintendo?

Sivaram: Nintendo invested in us for a good reason ... and they are an active technology partner. I cannot disclose much more than that about Nintendo's plans. Matrix is not trying to be a consumer brand name. We come through our customers' products and we leave it to them to announce what technologies are in their products.

IDGNS: What are your plans for memory cards?

Sivaram: The same way as any other flash maker, our memory can be integrated into many form factors. MMC (multimedia cards) and a TSOP (thin small outline package) we have announced. As we get closer to announcing the other form factors, we'll let you know.

IDGNS: How about SD (Secure Digital) cards and Memory Stick?

Sivaram: You are thinking along the right lines but I cannot tell you right now. Our vice president of marketing will personally come and strangle me if I say anything more about our future product announcements.

IDGNS: Can you make the chips rewritable?

Sivaram: 3-D, we believe, intrinsically is a very enabling technology. We think 3-D is going to have very wide-ranging applications. We are a small company, we have big customers, we need to be focused. We will continue to explore these areas while we continue to stay focused on making one-time programming successful. We will look into all possible applications for 3-D, which surely includes rewritable technology. I want to be able to walk before I can run. Stay tuned.

IDGNS: How soon could this happen?

Sivaram: In due time we'll make our announcements, but it is too early right now. -- IDG News Service

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