Print 7 comment(s) - last by amanojaku.. on Sep 18 at 7:52 PM

Transparent thin film memory could soon be here

Zinc tin oxide (ZTO) has one big advantage over traditional thin-film semiconductor materials like gallium- or indium-containing compounds -- it's cheap.

ZTO, unlike the other thin-film candidates is based on elements that are plentiful in the Earth's crust.  Plus it happens to be transparent, an added bonus when inspecting thin-film applications.  

Zinc Tin Oxide
[Image Source: Look Chem]

Previous work had already shown ZTO to make relatively good thin-film transistors -- now new research shows it's also a capable candidate for the memristor, a promising new circuit element.

Memristors are a new circuit element long theorized, but only recently implemented by Hewlett Packard Comp.'s (HPQ) research wing, HP Labs.  Since that breakthrough things have proceeded rapidly, with licensed devices expected to launch as traditional SSD replacements as early as next year.  Memristor RRAM (resistive random access memory) differs from NAND (not-and gate) memory in that it stores values as a resistance value, rather than a charge.  Hence it saves power and offers some performance advantages.

The latest development comes courtesy of Oregon State University, who successfully constructed a ZTO memristor (a much more affordable concoction that HP's original titanium dioxide design).

Comments Professor John Conley, the team lead, "Flash memory has taken us a long way with its very small size and low price.  But it’s nearing the end of its potential, and memristors are a leading candidate to continue performance improvements."

The new flexible thin-film memristor is expected to open up applications other than RRAM, too though.  One possibility suggested would be to couple the transparent memristors with thin-film transistors (TFT) in a futuristic display.

Flexible display
The new memristors could be added to flexible displays. [Image Source:]

The findings were published [abstract] in Solid-State Electronics, a peer-reviewed electrical-engineering journal.  The work was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).

Sources: OSU [press release], Solid-State Electronics [abstract]

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What about durability?
By danjw1 on 9/18/2012 12:05:28 PM , Rating: 3
I am curious if memristors have better durability, as in read/write cycles then flash memory. Anyone know about this?

RE: What about durability?
By Master Kenobi on 9/18/2012 6:35:44 PM , Rating: 3
Given how the data is stored, it seems that it should have a much longer lifespan than flash, providing the new material doesn't degrade so quickly when switching.

Honestly flash memory was always a bad choice and the memory companies knew it. The write/rewrite limitation was too low to make it practical in large demanding functions. That is why many of these companies have been funneling money into R&D for phase change and other memory types for when flash no longer became practical. HP hit a nice home run when it rolled out memresistors and it seems industry players are pushing this to market very agressively.

RE: What about durability?
By amanojaku on 9/18/2012 7:52:41 PM , Rating: 3
NAND flash theoretically has a write endurance of 100K-500K cycles, but most implementations are MLC with an endurance of 3K. The number of write cycles decreases with process shrinks and increased bits per cell.

There are no commercial Memristors yet, so there is no hard data on memristor endurance. Consider, too, that there are at least three types of memristor, depending on who you ask. HP claims 1 trillion cycles for ReRAM memristors.
It takes less than 10 nanoseconds to read a bit; endurance cycles go beyond 10^12 and retention time is counted in years.

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