A company owned jointly by Intel and Micron has started mass producing NAND flash memory chips using tiny 34-nanometer technology.
NAND flash memory is used to store songs, movies and more in iPods, iPhones and a range of other consumer electronics goods.
The Intel-Micron joint venture, IM Flash Technologies, expects that 50% of the chips at its factory in Lehi, Utah to be made using 34nm technology by the end of this year.
The nanometer measurement describes the size of the smallest transistors and other parts that can be manufactured on a single chip. There are about three to six atoms in a nanometer, depending on the type of atom, and there are a billion nanometers in a metre.
Chip makers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) and Intel currently mass-produce chips using technology as tiny as 40nm to 45nm. Generally, the more transistors on a chip and the closer they are together, the faster the chip can perform tasks.
Aside from performance, companies are working to make chips smaller and less expensive because people want ever-smaller, cheaper devices.
IM Flash is manufacturing 32G byte NAND chips the size of a thumbnail with its 34nm technology, and expects the chips to be used in small solid-state drives (SSDs) or flash memory cards aimed at products including digital cameras, digital camcorders and personal music players.
The 32G byte chips are multi-level cell (MLC) chips, which means they can handle more rewrites than the single level cell (SLC) variety of NAND flash.
Samsung, the world's largest NAND flash memory chip maker, is currently upgrading its chip factories to use 42nm technology and plans to start 30nm production next year.
The company demonstrated a multi-level cell 64GB NAND flash memory chip made using 30nm manufacturing technology last year.