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Phase change memory wafer manufactured at 90nm
Intel claims it will mass produce phase change memory before the end of 2007

This week Intel privately shared parts of its roadmap for memory technologies through 2008. Intel’s progress on phase-change memory, PCM or PRAM, will soon be sampled to customers with mass production possible before the end of the year.

Phase-change memory is positioned as a replacement for flash memory, as it has non-volatile characteristics, but is faster and can be scaled to smaller dimensions. Flash memory cells can degrade and become unreliable after as few as 10,000 writes, but PCM is much more resilient at more than 100 million write cycles. For these reasons, Intel believes that phase-change memory could one day replace DRAM.

“The phase-change memory gets pretty close to Nirvana,” said Ed Doller, CTO of Intel’s flash memory group. “It will start to displace some of the RAM in the system.”

For its implementation of phase-change memory, Intel has since 2000 licensed technology from Ovonyx Inc.. The Ovonyx technology uses the properties of chalcogenide glass, the same material found in CD-RW and DVD-RW, which can be switched between crystalline and amorphous states for binary functions.

Every potential PCRAM memory maker thus far licenses Ovonyx technology. According to Ovonyx’s Web site, the first licensee of the technology was Lockheed Martin in 1999, with Intel and STMicroelectronics in the following year. Four years after that, Nanochip signed an agreement.  Elpida and Samsung were the next two in 2005, and Qimonda marks the latest with a signing this year.

IBM, Macronix and Qimonda detailed last December its recent developments on phase-change memory. Researchers at IBM’s labs 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 IBM 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.

Intel’s initial phase-change technology, however, is already a reality, as the chipmaker revealed that it has produced a 90 nanometer phase-change memory wafer. At the 90 nanometer process size, the power requirements to write are approximate to that required for flash. Intel said that its early test work shows data retention abilities of greater than 10 years even at temperatures of 85 degree Celsius.

Intel touts PCM as a “new category of memory,” as its attributes are distinctly different, and typically superior to many of the memory technologies today as it combines the best attributes of RAM, NOR and NAND. Intel wouldn’t give a firm date on the availability of its phase-change memory as several details still need to be finalized after the sampling process.

“We're going to be using this to allow customers to get familiar with the technology and help us architect the next generation device.” Doller said. “We're hoping we can see [mass] production by the end of the year, but that depends on the customers.”

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RE: Promising
By TSS on 3/9/2007 7:03:40 AM , Rating: 3
I'm not convinced yet this will bridge the gap between data storage and system memeory. it's a step in the right direction but no replacement. for it to actually do that it would have to rival RAM's speed with the HDD's capacity & price.

remember its great to have a 3.5" HDD of 2 TB's from this stuff but if that costs 5000+ bucks thats not going to help any.

However, if they manage at least 40GB's on a HDD sized disk for about €100 (i can get a 320GB disk for that) with significant (speedy gonzales signficant) speed improvements that come close but not quite to DRAM, i would buy it.

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 7:17:12 AM , Rating: 2
You don't have to be "convinced" of anything.. you just have to recognize the potential, which is all that matters with technologies that are a few years down the road.

RE: Promising
By fliguy84 on 3/9/2007 7:37:04 AM , Rating: 2
Can't wait for my 1TB nanoSD card :)

RE: Promising
By MrEMan on 3/9/2007 9:03:12 AM , Rating: 5
Yeah, like recognizing the potential of Itanium a few years back...

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 10:39:40 AM , Rating: 2
If you think this is "like" the potential of Itanium, you're a fool.

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 10:45:28 AM , Rating: 3
And let's not forget.. Itanium's potential as an architecture was never its problem. The problem was the marketing, the apathy toward it by the x86 market, and the path-of-least-resistance that x86-64 offered.

RE: Promising
By deeznuts on 3/9/2007 1:06:12 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not an Itanium expert, but I thought Itanium and x86-64 are two completely different markets. x86-64 competed with the Xeons right? Itanium was built to run some very specialized programs I thought.

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 3:42:10 PM , Rating: 2
Itanium (EPIC) and x86-64 are different markets, but Intel once envisioned that EPIC would be the 64-bit market.

RE: Promising
By darkpaw on 3/9/2007 4:20:17 PM , Rating: 4
Yah, cause they sorta underestimated the willingness of everyone to rebuild all of their x86 based programs to a completely different architecture.

It was really a bad idea from the start, since it had 0 backwards compatibility.

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 6:28:05 PM , Rating: 2
The architecture was not a bad idea at all. Attempting to take it where it wouldn't fit right was the only bad idea.

RE: Promising
By iollmann on 3/11/2007 12:09:42 AM , Rating: 3
AMD is to blame here, as they admitted when they introduced the x86-64 ISA. Transitioning CPU architectures is possible. Apple has brought its users kicking and screaming (or drooling impatiently as the case may be) through two CPU architecture switches over the years, and is in the midst of a 64-bit transition, which will likely play out without a hitch. x86 has no backward compatibility features for PowerPC. PowerPC had only minimal similarity to mk68k

The difference between the Windows and MacIntosh experience is that in the Mac case, users had no choice. With each switch, Apple lost a few old customers, but picked up a bunch of new ones.

Apple also controls the operating system. I have no information about Microsoft's level of enthusiasm for EPIC. Microsoft is in a position that they could convince business users that they have no choice. (Evidence of industry boycotts of Vista notwithstanding.) However, whether they wanted to go through the effort to write and support a emulator is another question. Microsoft is playing a defensive game in the operating systems market. Bold moves don't do much except endanger their position of dominance. Itanium is likely nothing but a big giant expense for Microsoft.

RE: Promising
By oTAL on 3/12/2007 11:05:31 AM , Rating: 2
Two points are worth mentioning about Itanium...

1. It is STILL a promissing technology... anyone who can't see that needs a pair a glasses... will it ever deliver on the promise? No one really knows... (anybody who thinks he knows is wrong...)

2. Yes, It competes with x86-64. Two different architectures can compete the same way macs and pcs compete for a place in your desk. The latest failures for Itanium came when Opterons and low priced Xeons (prices forced by AMD competition) started eroding into existing and potential costumers.

One of the largest semiconductor companies asked my company for an opinion on the possibility of architecture shift on some software we deliver (decision support software, high power necessities - large databases). Lots of different SOs and architectures have been used by this company - the code I work on has flags (currently never used) for stuff like Alpha, Spark, etc. They use HP-UX, they have unix systems, windows systems and I believe they may still have some Solaris stuff. These technologies compete with each other! Maybe with higher inertia since there are very large investments at stake, but this competition exists.
When we were asked we answered - there are some choices... each have ups and downs... our opinion is still that x86 is here to stay and it requires the smallest investment on almost every level...
Still, I can see Itaniums being usefull for many things... and they do offer blistering speed for optimized code... it's just too much of an investment to buy expensive hardware and develop expensive software...

On a side note...
AMD is to blame here, as they admitted when they introduced the x86-64 ISA.

I'm going out on a limb here and say that AMD is probably quite proud of carrying that blame... ;)

RE: Promising
By Hoser McMoose on 3/11/2007 1:42:13 PM , Rating: 2
And let's not forget.. Itanium's potential as an architecture was never its problem. The problem

Let's see, the Itanium was designed to minimize transistor use at a time when transistor count was quickly becoming a less important factor. It was designed to use a simple and elegant instruction set that ended up being neither simple or elegant. It was supposed to fix problems that didn't yet exist at the expense of not breaking a major issue (good backwards compatibility) that DID exist.

I suppose you could argue that a lot of these failures were more due to the implementation of the architecture rather then it's basic ideas, but to say that Itanium failed JUST because of "apathy" is 100% false.

Itanium is purely an example of something that looks good on paper, but when you take a really good look at ask the hard questions, it weaknesses become readily apparent. This was true as far back as the late 90's and it hasn't improved any.

It remains to be seen if the same is true with this memory or not. Again it looks good on paper, but there are still some hard questions that need to be asked. The key is how fast is the memory, how dense is it and especially how expensive. Those three factors will help determine whether or not it has a place in the computer industry and just what the place will be. Fortunately Intel does seem to be in the process of trying to answer these questions, so perhaps by the end of the year we'll have some more concrete information.

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/11/2007 3:07:33 PM , Rating: 2
Show me where I said anything about Itanium's situation being the result of "just" one thing or another.

RE: Promising
By Oregonian2 on 3/9/2007 3:10:58 PM , Rating: 2
Phase-change memory was touted to revolutionize memory technology in the 70's (last century). Had "potential" to revolutionize the world, etc. Been around for a long time. Sounds like it may actually make it to commercial product which is good (finally). But I think I'll reserve enthusiasm at least until after it exits being the vaporware that it's now (and has been for about 30 years).

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/9/2007 3:45:40 PM , Rating: 1
Had the potential to revolutionize the world? It still has it.

RE: Promising
By GTVic on 3/9/2007 6:41:18 PM , Rating: 1
wioll haven be

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/10/2007 8:35:50 AM , Rating: 2
Umm.. what?

RE: Promising
By macmikey on 3/12/2007 11:08:02 AM , Rating: 2

Douglas Adams lives!

RE: Promising
By rodch on 3/10/2007 1:29:05 PM , Rating: 2
I vaguely recall a late 70s Electronics article about magnetic bubble memory (also touted by Intel at the time): "The technology of the future - Always was, always will be"

RE: Promising
By zsdersw on 3/11/2007 6:25:48 AM , Rating: 2
The inability to see the forest for the trees often manifests itself in the use of the past to wrongly or irrelevantly downplay the future.

A lot has changed between the late 70s and today/tomorrow.

"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini
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