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Samsung Buys Grandis As MRAM Moves Toward Mainstream

August 01, 2011
by Scott Denne

MRAM, an exotic computer-memory technology that could eventually replace flash, has taken a step closer to becoming standard, as Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.SE, SSNHY) has acquired start-up Grandis Inc., VentureWire has learned.

The deal closed on July 22, according to the start-up’s chief executive, Farhad Tabrizi. Terms of the acquisition couldn’t be learned, though Tabrizi said in an email the deal serves as a “very successful exit” for Grandis’s investors.

Milpitas, Calif.‘s Grandis raised $15 million in venture capital since its founding in 2002 from investors including Applied Ventures, Concept Ventures, Incubic Venture Funds, Matrix Partners and Sevin Rosen Funds. It also raised a similar amount in grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Investors on its board didn’t respond to requests for comment. Tabrizi couldn’t be reached in time to elaborate on the sale. A representative of Samsung declined to comment.

MRAM, which stands for magnetic random-access memory, has been touted by its advocates for decades as a suitable replacement for multiple forms of memory and storage because it is both fast and nonvolatile—meaning it doesn’t lose data when the power supply is cut off. But no company has been able to develop the technology to be price competitive with other forms of memory, such as flash and DRAM, which are used in devices such as laptops, iPads and game consoles.

Samsung is the world’s largest supplier of both DRAM and flash, according to IHS iSuppli, a semiconductor market research firm. Its acquisition of Grandis comes two months after Russian Nanotechnology Corp. and chip start-up Crocus Technology SA announced a $300 million investment to build an MRAM factor in Russia, showing the technology is making real progress.

Though Grandis, which was working toward a particularly advanced flavor of MRAM called Spin Torque Transfer, hadn’t yet built its first product, it had licensed some of its technology to other companies and didn’t expect to have a working product until the end of this year at the earliest, Tabrizi told VentureWire a year ago when the company got the second part of its DARPA grant.

The only company that sells MRAM chips today is Everspin Technologies Inc., which spun off from Freescale Semiconductor Inc. in 2008. That company has shipped about three million chips to date and expects to more than double that total this year for applications in industrial computing, point-of-sale terminals and the automotive industry, said Phillip LoPresti, its CEO.

That company, whose backers include Lux Capital and New Venture Partners, plans to release a Spin Torque Transfer chip that would take the capacity of its products from a few megabytes to a gigabyte, LoPresti said.

(This story was also published in Dow Jones VentureWire, a daily publication that covers news about start-ups and venture capital.)

Samsung Buys Grandis As MRAM Moves Toward Mainstream

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