have created a new device that can offer both dynamic and long-term storage and
could revolutionize the field of electronics. Where current devices have
separate memory and storage chips, future devices could rely on a single bank
of homogenous chips.
Traditionally, (volatile) memory and storage are separate entities on modern
computers. The volatile memory involves chips with very fast access times that must be powered to
retain information. Often the term "memory" is used
synonymously with the longer phrase volatile memory. It's
typically used to store details about the running programs. By contrast
storage (nonvolatile memory) offers slower access times, but can hold
information even after a circuit is powered off.
If you've ever looked at a NAND flash storage cell (nonvolatile) and a
DRAM cell (volatile), you'll realize that long-term and short-term storage
don't necessarily have to be dramatically different in structure.
Perhaps that was the inspiration of North Carolina State University, which has
invented a new device dubbed the dual floating gate field effect transistor cell (DFG-FET),
which packs both devices into a single cell. The DFG-FET consists of the
two FET gates separated from each other by an insulating layer of silicon
oxide. Above the top FET rests a control gate, which can change the state
of transistors by applying different voltages.
As a RAM cell, the two-transistor device has a read time of 0.31-2.18 ns
(similar to SDRAM and faster than DRAM), a 50 ns write time for the charged
state ('1'), and a 10 µs write time for the uncharged ('0') state.
Non-volatile writes range from 10 to 30 µs.
The device can tell what mode the current command is, based on the individual
voltages provided to the gate transistors via the word line (WL) and select
Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC
State and co-author of the paper on the work, states [press
release], "We've invented a new device that may revolutionize
Possible applications in the short term include unified memory for server
farms. Currently, server farms can't turn off specific servers to save
power, as they would lose the information stored in their volatile memory.
As the new device operates faster, it could quickly cache the current
volatile memory state in free non-volatile memory and then power off, quickly
retrieving it when powered back on.
Aside from server power savings, the paper shows off an FPGA circuit that could
offer both space and power savings over current designs. FPGAs are
reprogrammable hardware chips (think a CPU which could be switched from an ARM
architecture to a x86 architecture by flashing the chip), which are increasingly seeing use in a variety of
And the researchers propose that the device could be used to create
"instant on" computers and portable electronic devices, which didn't
require lengthy boot times (which have even crept into the smartphone space).
The paper on the exciting new device is published [abstract]
in the IEEE journal Computer. The study was funded by a
National Science Foundation grant. Co-authors of the paper included
former NC State Ph.D. student Daniel Schinke; former NC State master's student
Mihir Shiveshwarkar; and Dr. Neil Di Spigna, a research assistant professor at
quote: Which could mean instant power-off and resume, with no power needed as in sleep mode.
quote: Correct me if I'm wrong, but keeping memory powered in a "sleeping" server should only cost the price few watts
quote: Possible applications in the short term include unified memory for server farms. Currently, server farms can't turn off specific servers to save power, as they would lose the information stored in their volatile memory. As the new device operates faster, it could quickly cache the current volatile memory state in free non-volatile memory and then power off, quickly retrieving it when powered back on.
quote: You can hibernate to any hard drive, but that isn't the point. What's impressive about this new tech is that you don't need to do anything to preserve the data, its persistent in the cell regardless of the power state.
quote: What exactly is so bad about having a bank of RAM chips and a separate bank of flash chips
quote: Especially if the compromises necessary to manufacture this thing means that it is substantially slower than RAM, and substantially less dense than flash?
quote: Looking at something and saying "it would be nice if it were twice as fast, and used half the power" does not make one a visionary.
quote: More points of failure. More cost to the device. Potential of filling up your RAM and really slowing down your system as it writes to disk.