Print 23 comment(s) - last by masamasa.. on Jul 19 at 10:51 PM

Memory will help smartphones boot quicker, save a bit of power

Micron Technology Inc. (MU) endured a rocky 2011, with plunging DRAM prices and the tragic death of long-time CEO Steven Appleton in a plane crash.  Appleton was replaced by Mark Durcan.

This year the Boise, Idaho-based company shows signs of bouncing back.  In May it unveiled DDR4 samples to counter Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930) currently sampled designs.  The company also announced its plan to acquire Tokyo-based DRAM maker Elpida Memory, Inc. for $2.5B USD.

I. Micron Air Commercial PCM -- an Industry-First

Now the rebound continues with Micron beating Samsung to the punch, becoming the first to release commercial phase-change memory (PCM).

Phase-change memory is a new kind of storage chip, which offers a superior alternative to the tradition silicon-based NAND flash storage.  PCM is built on chalcogenide glass -- glass that contains one or more of the chalcogenide (sulfur, selenium or tellurium) elements.  When heated, the glass switches from crystalline to amorphous, altering electrical properties.  Modern PRAM also adds two intermediate states, making for four-states per cell.

Micron's phase-change memory will no doubt be pricey, but it promises high volume and a slew of benefits.  It boasts that the memory will cut smartphone boot times, improve application response times (by cutting latency), and even yield small power savings.  The memory is not a major power consumer, so these gains likely will amount to minutes of extra battery life, not hours.

Micron phase change
Micron's phase-change memory is incorporated into a 2-chip design, which incorporates both LPDDR2 volatile memory and PCM non-volatile memory.

Micron is offering its PCM as an all-in-one volatile/non-volatile solution, solution that includes a 1-gigabit PCM chip attached to a 512-Mbit LPDDR2 chip, connected by a custom interface inside a single package.

Tom Eby, Vice President of the Wireless Solutions Group at Micron comments, "Our commitment to innovation and continued development of advanced products to address the voracious demands of the wireless industry is clear and strong.  We are determined to evolve and innovate by continuing to offer the best-tailored solutions for both today's and tomorrow's market requirements." 

The new memory will be built on a 45 nm process.

II. Other Solutions Near Market

The only other driving concern (other than price) when it comes to PCM is sensitivity to temperature.  Given the high temperatures found in many mobile devices, Micron's solution will likely face a tough test to see whether it has worked out these kinks.

Micron may be the first to take the technology commercial, but it's hardly the first to experiment with PCM.  Intel Corp. (INTC), International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM), and Samsung have all sampled PCM chips in recent years.  Phase-change memory is based on the so-called "Ovshinsky effect", a property for quantified and patented by physicist Stanley Ovshinsky in the mid-1960s.

Chalcogenide glass
PCM is built using chalcogenide glass -- a special type of doped glass.
[Image Source: Univ. of Southampton]

The technology is similar to Hewlett-Packard Comp.'s (HPQ) memristor tech.  In fact, some HP Labs research fellows have argued that PCM are memristors, a claim that is debated among industry standard-keepers.

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More useful in PCs
By EricMartello on 7/18/2012 4:23:23 AM , Rating: 4
How often are people booting or rebooting their phones? I may reboot mine once every 2 months only because "locks up", but it's generally always on or in faster boot times on a phone are not really a selling point. Making these into next-gen SSD drives would be a more tantalizing prospect.

RE: More useful in PCs
By leviathan05 on 7/18/2012 8:50:58 AM , Rating: 2
Rather than recharge my phone, I swap out the battery, so my phone reboots about once a day. Not a huge deal, but if they cut the reboot time down to 10 seconds or so, I sure wouldn't complain.

RE: More useful in PCs
By Solandri on 7/18/2012 4:34:38 PM , Rating: 2
That's really the holy grail here I think. Instead of having an integrated battery pack, they can be popped in and out at will without the phone losing its state. Like you can change batteries on a portable analog radio without losing the station it was last tuned into.

Instead of plugging your phone into the charger, you just have 2-3 battery packs sitting in the charger. And whenever the phone gets low you take a few seconds to swap battery packs.

RE: More useful in PCs
By Ristogod on 7/18/2012 9:37:40 AM , Rating: 3
I go for months without rebooting my phone. My wife has to reboot around every 1 to 2 days to keep it running right. Of course I run WP7 and she runs an Android phone.

RE: More useful in PCs
By Kurz on 7/18/2012 1:33:00 PM , Rating: 2
Depends on the Carrier and the Cell phone maker.
My android was Terrible before I flashed a new rom to it.

RE: More useful in PCs
By geddarkstorm on 7/18/2012 12:27:32 PM , Rating: 2
Making these into next gen SSDs -is- the entire prospect. The PRAM is 100x faster than flash storage, and has an endurance in the millions of writes unlike flash's thousands. It can also store 4 bits of data per cell, instead of two if you're using MLC flash. You can read some here:

PRAM may eventually allow us to have non-volatile RAM memory with some more improvements (a recent breakthrough as increased its speed by 10x to 100 picosecond latency for writes), which would make SSDs and DRAM completely obsolete. You can read about that here: (realized that DDR4 will start at 1.6 gigahertz in speed)

IBM are the people who developed this, and it's been a few years in the making. Incredible seeing it finally come out now. It really could bring a paradigm shift to our computing world.

RE: More useful in PCs
By Fritzr on 7/18/2012 3:31:34 PM , Rating: 2
Engadget needs to edit their article. In the Press Release they say the same thing Daily Tech does "4 Levels" which equates to 2 bits of storage.

From the press release.
In addition, depending on the voltage, more or less material between the
electrodes will undergo a phase change, which directly affects the cell's
resistance. Scientists exploit that aspect to store not only one bit, but
multiple bits per cell. In the present work, IBM scientists used four
distinct resistance levels to store the bit combinations "00", "01" 10" and

RE: More useful in PCs
By geddarkstorm on 7/19/2012 12:34:17 AM , Rating: 2
Honestly that makes a lot more sense too!

RE: More useful in PCs
By EricMartello on 7/19/2012 12:53:19 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, along with a unified PCI Express interface which replaces all the other internal/external interfaces, would make for some sleek, efficient computers. It should also drive the cost:performance ratio down substantially.

basic Science
By maximal on 7/17/12, Rating: 0
RE: basic Science
By amanojaku on 7/17/2012 9:52:36 PM , Rating: 5
Glass is amorphous by definition, if it switches to crystalline it's no longer glass.
That's not quite correct, either, if I understand my physics. Crystallinity is measured over short (a few atoms' worth) and long distances. Amorphous solids have short-range crystallinity, resulting in increased hardness and density when compared to liquids and gases.

A common misconception is the glass in PCM changes state (solid, liquid, gas or plasma). It remains a solid, and instead changes phase, which, as a gross oversimplification, is a subset of a state. Hence, the name phase-change memory, not state-change memory.
One cannot patent "Ovshinsky Effect" nor more than he or she can patent melting of water ice; physical processes are not patentable, means of achieving them are.
Correct, the effect was not patented. The method of achieving the effect was, which does not occur naturally. He patented his process and particular set of conditions (there are others).

RE: basic Science
By ARoyalF on 7/17/2012 10:15:01 PM , Rating: 5
One cannot patent "Ovshinsky Effect" nor more than he or she can patent melting of water ice; physical processes are not patentable, means of achieving them are.

I bet Apple could patent it!

RE: basic Science
By XZerg on 7/18/2012 10:52:43 AM , Rating: 1
I rather bet on USPTO approving the patent - even more likely.

RE: basic Science
By Amedean on 7/18/2012 2:00:16 AM , Rating: 2
That may be why Jason usually writes about political issues.

RE: basic Science
By xti on 7/18/2012 10:29:12 AM , Rating: 2
politics? maybe he does if the iphone announced its a candidate for president from the commie party.

RE: basic Science
By Reclaimer77 on 7/18/2012 7:42:34 AM , Rating: 2
Would you please get a science editor who has at least passed high-school science. If you do here is what he/she would notice:

They had one, Masher. He was literally ran out of Daily Tech by the radical Liberal majority here because facts and truth didn't jive with their twisted world view.

RE: basic Science
By Reflex on 7/18/2012 11:02:16 AM , Rating: 2
Reality has a well documented liberal bias.

Not exactly what I was hoping for
By nafhan on 7/18/2012 10:30:35 AM , Rating: 2
a 2-chip design, which incorporates both LPDDR2... and PCM
I kind of remember one of the promises of phase change memory being that a single pool of storage could be used for both primary storage (replacing RAM) and secondary storage (replacing flash or hard disks). Sounds like this is not the case for, at least, first generation PCM.

I'd be interested in finding out if this is due to compatibility reasons (i.e. current SoC's need DRAM, period) or physical characteristics of first gen consumer PCM (i.e. PCM is significantly slower than DRAM, uses more power, etc.). Seems like it could be either or both. Quick Googling doesn't give me much more than what I see here in this article.

RE: Not exactly what I was hoping for
By amanojaku on 7/18/2012 11:29:00 AM , Rating: 2
PCM won't replace DRAM just yet because of performance - current PCM tech is around 50 times slower. PCM is a competitor for Flash NVRAM, due to higher numbers of write cycles and and greater performance. Problem is scaling - PCM is more expensive than Flash NVRAM, is more sensitive to temperature, and manufacturing has not matured enough to scale to large volumes.

Keeping these limitations in mind, mobile devices will probably get PCM first. You won't need large amounts, heat should be significantly less, and mobile devices are inherently expensive, anyway.

By nafhan on 7/18/2012 11:52:07 AM , Rating: 2
Thanks! That would have been my guess. Micron's website was touting advantages like "low pin count" without mentioning anything about performance.

By geddarkstorm on 7/18/2012 12:32:39 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, that's not true anymore (though true for this first gen Micron PCM).

Take a look at this: . They've been able to improve PCM to have a write latency of 500 picoseconds.

For comparison, DDR3-2000 memory has a bit latency of 500 picoseconds, a full cycle latency of 1 nanosecond, and operates at 1 gigahertz command rate.

So, this new PCM they've just developed has the same characteristics of DD3-2000 RAM. I think that qualifies it for PRAM status.

Looks like the phase-change revolution may well be at hand. We'll just have to see. But it's so cool seeing something I've been reading about in labs finally coming to market.

By shin0bi272 on 7/17/2012 11:38:28 PM , Rating: 2
Cant wait for this to hit the PC and squash flash based SSDs into dust! For those who didnt read up on PCM:

Good job Micron
By masamasa on 7/19/2012 10:51:48 PM , Rating: 2
Got to love tech advancements like this.

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