Ramtron boosts memory

Colorado Springs-based Ramtron International Corp. (Nasdaq: RMTR) has quadrupled the storage capacity of its ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) chips to 4 megabits (Mb), and has reached a manufacturing agreement with Texas Instruments (TI) to produce the new devices.

FRAM chips are one of several competing “non-volatile” memory technologies, which can retain stored data when their power supply is turned off. Ramtron has been developing FRAM memory for 20 years. But it only started commercial production of the chips a few years ago, and then at relatively small storage capacities of 1 Mb or less. The latest flash memory chips, in comparison, can store up to 16 Gb, or roughly 4,000 times more data than Ramtron’s new 4 Mb chips.

Ramtron’s 4Mb chip

Ramtron’s new 4 Mb chip

Nonetheless, Ramtron’s chips have found a number of niche markets in recent years — including electric utility meters, auto navigation and entertainment systems, printers and specialized disk drive controllers — where users are willing to pay a premium for fast, durable, power-efficient non-volatile memory. The company says it has now shipped more than 150 million FRAM chips.

Last year, Ramtron’s sales grew 18% to $40.5 million, while gross profit margins increased to more than 50%.

Although Ramtron initially planned to manufacture its own chips, it long ago sold its production facility in the Springs, and has relied on third-party manufacturers, including Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd., to build its chips. This week’s deal adds TI as an additional supplier.

TI and Ramtron have been working together since 2001 to develop a process for making FRAM chips with circuits as small as 130 nanometers. While Ramtron continues to produce stand-alone FRAM memory chips, TI has licensed the technology with plans to eventually embed blocks of FRAM memory within other kinds of logic chips.

Ramtron CEO Bill Staunton says that besides the 4 Mb chips, his company plans to use TI’s manufacturing line to produce samples of “at least one additional product” during 2007.

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