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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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basic Science
By maximal on 7/17/2012 8:41:33 PM , Rating: 0
I am sure this is nothing new, but science editing here on DailyTech has gone down the drain over last couple of years. I've been reading DailyTech for a while and it used to be a lot better.

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:

quote:
... the glass switches from crystalline to amorphous, ...


Glass is amorphous by definition, if it switches to crystalline it's no longer glass.

quote:
... a property for quantified and patented by physicist Stanley Ovshinsky in the mid-1960s.


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.




RE: basic Science
By amanojaku on 7/17/2012 9:52:36 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
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.
quote:
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
quote:
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
quote:
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.


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