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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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By Alphafox78 on 7/10/2006 11:16:27 AM , Rating: 2
I think this tech opens up the door to things much better than just memory sticks. imagine a pc with no boot times and no hard drive needed. or a pocket pc/phone that uses no power when off but comes on instantly. the memory could be shared in a pc between running apps and storage, the way pocket pcs (the older versions) work with memory.

RE: Posabilities
By Martin Blank on 7/10/2006 12:05:39 PM , Rating: 2
There will still be a boot time involved. Testing done with the DRAM-based PCI card that can act as a drive showed that while boot times were significantly improved, the CPU still had to process the information in the files and initialize the devices, and booting still took several seconds to complete.

RE: Posabilities
By Alphafox78 on 7/10/2006 12:37:54 PM , Rating: 2
well ya, I meant kind of like a sleep mode after initial boot. except sleeping would really be asleep since there is no power used.

RE: Posabilities
By dice1111 on 7/10/2006 1:03:38 PM , Rating: 2
The only sleep time i get on my computer at work, is me waiting for the damn thing to boot in the morning. Nothing like a ligitimate 10 min snooze. :)

RE: Posabilities
By TomZ on 7/10/2006 3:24:43 PM , Rating: 2
well ya, I meant kind of like a sleep mode after initial boot. except sleeping would really be asleep since there is no power used

Not all the standby power goes to the DRAM in sleep mode. For example, keyboard and mouse are powered up to allow the computer to "wake."

RE: Posabilities
By Tyler 86 on 7/10/2006 9:38:47 PM , Rating: 2
Good news though, I'm certain that there can be enough force applied to a button press can generate it's own power to wake a device in sleep - though that'd require new keyboards.

Maybe a 'Shake-And-Wake' variation would be good for PDAs.

RE: Posabilities
By Tyler 86 on 7/10/2006 9:51:12 PM , Rating: 2
Suspending session state straight to RAM instead of shutting down is quite doable today.

Some real-time applications had to be re-written to check the clock and obey power state notices and commands, but other than that -- we already have it.

Instant boot & reboot is very possible - the operating system just has to have an effective boot loader, preferably with some sort of incremental system-only state image it can dump to RAM as opposed to having to initialize every OS feature or sub-system from scratch, and the machine has to be able to safely asynchonously power-cycle all devices.

Such device could very forseeably pop on and off in less than 50 milliseconds, with or without greeting, with a full GUI & system state environment. Maybe even a supported application or two.

So far though, such times have only been accomplished with Linux and other proprietary OS's. Vista aims to please, but it's not the same - although since Windows XP Embedded, they do have support for 'suspend-once-resume-many' putting MS atleast in the ballpark.

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