Micron is First to Offer Phase-Change Storage Chips for Mobile Devices
July 17, 2012 7:23 PM
Memory will help smartphones boot quicker, save a bit of power
Micron Technology Inc. (
) endured a rocky 2011, with
plunging DRAM prices
of long-time CEO Steven Appleton in a plane crash. Appleton was replaced by
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 (
) 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'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.
), International Business Machines, Inc. (
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.
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 (
. In fact, some
research fellows have
, a claim that is debated among industry standard-keepers.
"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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