Print 10 comment(s) - last by BirdDad.. on Dec 16 at 7:27 PM

Diagram of test setup

Micrograph of test setup

Closeup of test setup

Cross-section of test setup

Closeup cross-section of phase change bridge
A new memory technology using semiconductor alloy is faster, smaller and more resilient than flash

Scientists from IBM, Macronix and Qimonda today disclosed joint research results that detail a new type of computer memory with the potential to be the successor to flash memory chips. The advancement is "phase-change" non-volatile memory, which appears to be much faster and can be scaled to dimensions smaller than flash. Non-volatile memories do not require electrical power to retain their information. By combining non-volatility with good performance and reliability, this phase-change technology may one day be a universal memory for mobile applications.

Working together at IBM Research labs on both U.S. coasts, the scientists designed, built and demonstrated a prototype phase-change memory device that switched more than 500 times faster than flash while using less than one-half the power to write data into a cell. The device’s cross-section is a minuscule 3 by 20 nanometers in size, far smaller than flash can be built today and equivalent to the industry’s chip-making capabilities targeted for 2015. This new result shows that unlike flash, phase-change memory technology can improve as it gets smaller with Moore’s Law advancements.

Flash memory cells, while also non-volatile, degrade and become unreliable after being rewritten about 100,000 times. This is not a problem for many consumer uses, but is a showstopper in applications that must be frequently rewritten, such as computer main memories or the buffer memories in network storage systems. A third concern for flash’s future is that it may become extremely difficult to keep its current cell design non-volatile as designs shrink below 45 nanometers.

The IBM/Macronix/Qimonda joint project’s phase-change memory achievement is important because it demonstrates a new non-volatile phase-change material that can switch more than 500 times faster than flash memory, with less than one-half the power consumption, and most significantly, achieves these desirable properties when scaled down to at least the 22-nanometer node, two chip-processing generations beyond floating-gate flash’s predicted brick wall.

At the heart of phase-change memory is a tiny chunk of a semiconductor alloy that can be changed rapidly between an ordered, crystalline phase having lower electrical resistance to a disordered, amorphous phase with much higher electrical resistance. Because no electrical power is required to maintain either phase of the material, phase-change memory is non-volatile.

The material’s phase is set by the amplitude and duration of an electrical pulse that heats the material. When heated to a temperature just above melting, the alloy’s energized atoms move around into random arrangements. Suddenly stopping the electrical pulse freezes the atoms into a random, amorphous phase. Turning the pulse off more gradually – over about 10 nanoseconds – allows enough time for the atoms to rearrange themselves back into the well-ordered crystalline phase they prefer.

The new memory material is a germanium-antimony alloy (GeSb) to which small amounts of other elements have been added (doped) to enhance its properties. Simulation studies enabled the researchers to fine-tune and optimize the material’s properties and to study the details of its crystallization behavior. A patent has been filed covering the composition of the new material.

The view a couple animations of how phase-change memory works, click here. The technical details of this research will be presented this week at the IEEE’s 2006 International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Lots of similar options
By ninjit on 12/12/2006 3:32:06 AM , Rating: 3
There's a bunch of similar technologies that are supposedly much better than current flash technologies.
In addtion to PRAM mentioned in the article, there's also
ZRAM (there was DT news-bit about this one and AMD recently)

(search wikipedia for more info, they have some good descriptions of these).
MRAM especially looks promising as an alternative to a lot of things.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem manufacturers are willing to make the jump just yet, because it would mean significant down time to retool their fabs, and hence lost revenue.

Shame, a completely diskless computer with MRAM main storage, and ZRAM for both cache and system memory sounds awesome.

RE: Lots of similar options
By Eris23007 on 12/12/2006 5:21:48 PM , Rating: 2
That just means a new company not presently in the flash business needs to decide that they want to try and compete. Or it means a world-class leader at one of the existing companies has to step up to the table and provide the long-term focus (a signature trait of world-class leaders) that will define the leading adopter of this technology.

We'll see who makes it first...

RE: Lots of similar options
By oTAL on 12/13/2006 3:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
The first option is inviable since the intellectual property on these technologies is in the hands of the established companies as is the know-how and skilled human resources. It would be VERY hard for that to change suddenly, unless one of the companies with a good IP went belly up and broken off and sold (which would allow a start up to buy part of the IP and hire part of the work force).

As for the second possibility, it will happen eventually... probably when either Intel, Microsoft, or Samsung decide to support the technology in a serious way.
->Intel and Microsoft for obvious reasons since as all enthusiasts know they decide a lot of what is coming. Samsung is a different case since they have the dimension, funds, capacity and influence to invest and manufacture a new type of memory and then use it or push other to use it in products such as thumb drives, HDDs or even graphics cards.

RE: Lots of similar options
By BirdDad on 12/16/2006 7:27:40 PM , Rating: 2
I aggree there are a lot of technologies that are out there,unfortuanatly I don't think any of these will see mass manufacturing into anything usefull as I was reading about FeRAM being the next big thing over ten years ago in pc mag and it has never been produced for consumers.

I know nothing about nano tech but...
By Mudvillager on 12/12/2006 3:49:19 AM , Rating: 2
In the last pic it says "3nm GeSblayer". Wouldn't that be impossible to create with the current and upcoming manufacturing processes?

Anyways, it does look really promising and I can't wait to see instant on PC's.

RE: I know nothing about nano tech but...
By therealnickdanger on 12/12/2006 12:11:36 PM , Rating: 2
See the details for this info: it isn't 3nm lithography like CPUs/GPUs use, it's entirely different. It's basically "pooped out" at 3nm. :D

By edpsx on 12/14/2006 10:48:27 AM , Rating: 2
LOL! Thats a great way of putting it. >Worth Reading<

The 3nm layer ....
By Almadenmike on 12/12/2006 4:11:07 AM , Rating: 2 created by sputter deposition, not by lithography. Such processes have been used for about 10 years (or more) to deposit atom-thin layers for mass-produced commercial devices such as the GMR heads used in disk drives.

RE: The 3nm layer ....
By Mudvillager on 12/12/2006 4:25:37 AM , Rating: 2
Why isn't sputter deposition used when creating CPU's then? (Like I said in my previous post I know nothing about nano tech.)

RE: The 3nm layer ....
By KristopherKubicki on 12/12/2006 8:15:06 AM , Rating: 2
The difference here is that they are creating a flat layer as opposed to a trace. When we say processor is 65nm wide we mean the interconnects are that wide. It's sort of like vertical vs horizontal.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh
Related Articles
Solid-state Drives Ready for Prime Time
November 15, 2006, 3:45 PM

Most Popular ArticlesAre you ready for this ? HyperDrive Aircraft
September 24, 2016, 9:29 AM
Leaked – Samsung S8 is a Dream and a Dream 2
September 25, 2016, 8:00 AM
Inspiron Laptops & 2-in-1 PCs
September 25, 2016, 9:00 AM
Snapchat’s New Sunglasses are a Spectacle – No Pun Intended
September 24, 2016, 9:02 AM
Walmart may get "Robot Shopping Carts?"
September 17, 2016, 6:01 AM

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki