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Micrograph of the MR2A16A MRAM device

Schematic of a 1-transistor, 1-MTJ memory cell showing the write lines above and below the bit and the read current path
All the benefits of flash memory and none of the drawbacks... except cost

Freescale Semiconductor Inc. announced the availability of its new memory chips which could possibly make some pretty large waves in the semiconductor industry. The company's magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM) is capable of retaining data without power like flash memory chips, but also has the ability to read and write data at much greater speeds. Also, unlike flash memory chips, MRAM doesn't degrade over time. Flash memory cells have been shown to lose integrity after 100,000 to 1 million cycles.

MRAM devices are capable of read and write speeds of 200MB/sec. For comparison, Samsung’s newly introduced 2Gb 60nm OneNand chips are capable of read speeds of 108MB/sec and write speeds of 17MB/sec. BusinessWeek reports:

Sometimes referred to as "universal" memory, MRAM could displace a number of chips found in every electronic device, from PCs, cell phones, music players and cameras to the computing components of kitchen appliances, cars and airplanes. "This is the most significant memory introduction in this decade," said Will Strauss, an analyst with research firm Forward Concepts. "This is radically new technology. People have been dabbling in this for years, but nobody has been able to make it in volume."

Companies like Toshiba, NEC and IBM have announced continued research and breakthroughs in MRAM technology, but Freescale is the first to announce commercial availability of the product. Freescale, which has been producing its 4Mb chips for the past two months in Arizona, was spun off from Motorola just two years ago. While it may be a while before consumers can see the benefits of products based around MRAM designs, it’s good to hear that manufacturers can now get a hold of production quality chips to develop new products.

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Cautiously optimistic...
By segagenesis on 7/10/2006 11:03:21 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah, we have seen magnetic RAM in the news in some shape or form for over a decade now but I see a few things will first decide whether it replaces flash or not.

1) Memory density is currently abysmal, but this is expected of first gen technology (I remember 256-bit static RAM's). However, to compete with 2 gigabit flash chips they will have to target markets where 4 megabit non-volatile density is enough (embedded devices?).

2) What happens if you hold a magnet to these things? At least I know flash memory is damn near indestructible and if you leave your flash drive in the wash it will still work afterwards. (Yes, it really does *cough*firsthandexperience*cough*)

3) Licensing and pricing as a result. Do I need to mention more than the word... RDRAM?

RE: Cautiously optimistic...
By GreenEnvt on 7/10/2006 11:07:21 AM , Rating: 2
I'm wondering how durable it is too.
I've also washed my cruzer mini (1gb) about 3-4 times, still works.

RE: Cautiously optimistic...
By saratoga on 7/10/2006 3:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
Densisty and durability of MRAM are strong points. If the technology takes off, it should massively improve over flash in durability because writing to an MRAM cell does not degrade the cell. Its like DRAM in that it can be used trillions of times without any change.

MRAM will also use 10-100 times less power then DRAM by some estimates.

By MercenaryForHire on 7/10/2006 11:12:40 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see this totally replacing regular flash memory, especially if it's much more expensive to produce.

MP3 players, cell phones, and other uses where they don't need hundreds of thousands of write cycles and/or blistering speeds will probably still be using it for some time.

Good points on resistance to magnetic fields + pricing though. Any idea of mfg. costs at all?

- M4H

RE: Cautiously optimistic...
By TSS on 7/10/2006 11:14:15 AM , Rating: 2
denisity will increase as the technology advances, at some point they will discover a method or some other way to increase density by alot. remember, flash chips started small too.

im much more interested in booting up windows with this stuff. if its indeed as fast as DRAM and retains its information, windows shouldnt take more then a second to load. it will get very interesting if its possible to use it as RAM and a HDD at the same time, meaning you can choose what stuff to (pre)load in the RAM. no movie will ever stutter, no game will need to load its maps anymore, you turn your PC on and your monitor takes longer to boot up then the PC....

very exciting times i'd say. it's only a matter of time now before it'll be high density and available everywhere.

and pricing will drop seeing as multiple compagnys are working on it, while RDRAM was rambus exlusive.

RE: Cautiously optimistic...
By TomZ on 7/10/2006 9:57:11 PM , Rating: 2
What happens if you hold a magnet to these things?

Answer: Nothing. While the device is susceptible to external magnetic fields, the field would have to be much, much stronger than can be produced with a magnet.

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