RealTime IT News

Intel Spearheads Memory Group in a 'Flash'

NAND flash memory , the popular storage technology used in certain iPods, cameras, and USB devices, is getting a boost from some high-tech partners.

Intel , Microsoft  and Dell  today said they have formed the Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface (NVMHCI) working group to provide a standard application programming interface (API)  for NAND flash systems.

NVMHCI, led by Intel, said in a statement the interface would be used by operating system drivers to access NAND flash memory storage in applications such as hard drive caching and solid-state drives.

NAND Flash products are prized because they yield better system performance while packing a lot of storage in a small form factor and consuming less power than devices that use traditional DRAM  storage. Analysts feel NAND Flash is a multi-billion-dollar industry waiting to happen, with Micron, SanDisk, Samsung and Toshiba leading Flash market.

While those vendors seek to sell flash products, Intel, Microsoft and Dell want to leverage flash to improve PC performance

For one, NVMHCI will make the Intel Turbo memory NAND technology, used in the new Centrino laptop PC processors, more prolific and faster, Rick Coulson, senior fellow and director of I/O architecture at Intel, said in a statement.

In another example, NVMHCI aims to make it easier for PC makers to leverage the Microsoft Vista operating system's ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive software features, which strive to make computers faster by using flash for caching.

ReadyBoost allows USB flash drives to serve as an additional memory cache NAND. ReadyDrive lets PCs equipped with a hybrid hard disks to enjoy better performance and longer battery life.

While the consumer ultimately benefits from these features, the hardware industry also benefits by having a standard interface to present innovative NAND flash memory implementations without the broader challenges and delays of providing unique operating system drivers through non-standard interfaces, Bob Rinne, general manager of Windows Hardware Ecosystem at Microsoft, said in a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com.

Mindful of the concern swirling around overlapping or competing standards, NVMHCI said it will complement standardization work being done in the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) Working Group.

ONFI standardizes the interface between the Flash controller and the NAND itself; NVMHCI standardizes the register level interface between the flash controller and the operating system driver.

The group said it is expanding its membership to include other companies. In the meantime, the group expects to deliver the specification in the second half of 2007.

Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth said there is value in NVMHCI, assuming it is an open standards group.

"This will prove very attractive IF it is an open standards body, that has minimal costs associated with it and if it is not a proprietary, premium solution... although the details are not yet very clear," Unsworth told internetnews.com.

"Industry support is vital and with Dell, Intel, and Microsoft it will surely attract lower-level players. Look to other ONFI companies to also potentially join this, such as Sony, Phison, Hynix, etc."