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512 megabit PRAM cell
Bigger, better, faster

Samsung today announced that it has introduced a new type of nonvolatile memory called PRAM or Phase-change Random Access Memory. The new memory technology is currently under heavy research from Samsung, but the company has finally demonstrated a working 512 megabit sample. According to Samsung, PRAM is slated to replace current NOR flash memory technology within the next several years.

PRAM, says Samsung, is much faster than the fastest NOR flash memory. Samsung indicated that PRAM achieves its performance by changing the way it writes and reads to memory. Unlike current NOR flash, PRAM does not have to erase data before writing new data. This alone achieves 30 times the performance of current memory technology said Samsung. Durability and endurance are also a key development for PRAM, allowing products to last at least 10 times longer.

Samsung indicated that PRAM will be a positive forward step for consumer products as well -- lowering prices thanks to new manufacturing techniques. Samsung said that PRAM cells are half the size of NOR flash memory and requires 20 percent fewer manufacturing steps to produce. PRAM will make an introduction into the market sometime in early 2008. According to the press release:

Adoption of PRAM is expected to be especially popular in the future designs of multi-function handsets and for other mobile applications, where faster speeds translate into immediately noticeable boosts in performance. High-density versions will be produced first, starting with 512 Mb.

Flash memory in general has exploded in the last two years. The market has grown significantly and companies are continuing to invest heavily into flash RAM development and manufacturing. Recently, SanDisk announced that it would acquire M-Systems for $1.35 billion, bolstering its market position significantly. Intel and Micron have also joined forces to produce volumes of NAND flash memory. In July, both SanDisk and Toshiba announced plans to invest a total of $8.2 billion in building new manufacturing facilities.

Flash memory is expected to scale well past 2010, with high density products on the way. Samsung indicated that 64GB memory cards are already in sight and larger capacities are just over the horizon. Consumer multimedia products aren't the only devices using flash memory however -- Intel is gearing up to introduce a new desktop platform called Robson next year that will utilize flash memory to store parts or all of an operating system to boost performance.

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RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 7:00:02 PM , Rating: 2
No, but that was the first thing I thought of when I saw the title: superfast ram modules with a giant cascade cooler on it. :O

Seriously, though, what does that mean, "phase change" ram (er, not RAM I guess - EEPROM? flash?)? Does it have a microdrop of water that it switches between a gas and a liquid somehow? So, is there a required temperature operating range? Does it lose its data if the temperature drops below freezing?

Some questions to think about... I guess I should read up! :P

Oh, also, this technically wouldn't be RAM if it is intended as a replacement for flash as RAM loses its information when power is removed. Like I said, it would be flash or EEPROM or some such thing.

RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 7:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
Oh... apparently it uses chalcogenide glass, which switches between an amorphous solid and crystalline structure with heat application and has been around for 10 years now (via Wikipedia). They also call it RAM, though, which is a misnomer, I believe.

I still see a potential data loss/corruption issue, though; what if you leave it out in the sun and all your data bits flip to ones?

RE: phase change?
By JB1592 on 9/11/2006 7:41:07 PM , Rating: 4
No, they have it correct. The idea that RAM is synonymous with system memory is incorrect.

RAM = Random Access Memory. As opposed to sequential access memory, such as a tape drives, where the entire memory medium must be read (or at least cycled) through in order to get to a piece of data, RAM can "randomly" access any piece of data given it's memory address.

ROM = Read only memory. EEPROM barely qualifies as ROM, and only because it can only be written to in special cases (using a BIOS flash utility for example). Traditional ROM chips can not be rewritten once they are programmed. Most types of ROM (all of them that I can think of actually) also allow random access which would more precisely make them "Read Only RAM."

This memory can be read from, and written to, and it can be accessed directly by memory address. Ergo, it is a form of RAM.

The loss of data on power down is not a feature of RAM, it is a feature of "volatile" memory technologies. The DRAM (Dynamic RAM) variants (SDRAM, DDR-SDRAM, etc.) that we have always traditionally used for system memory is a volatile memory technology, as well as a random access memory technology.

Think DVD types. DVD-ROM cannot be rewritten. DVD-RAM can be rewritten. Neither type loses data without power.

RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 9:53:33 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, volatile is the key. Thanks.

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