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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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By ksherman on 3/9/2007 8:23:07 AM , Rating: 2
they can mass prodeuce before the end of the year... Wow. Usually this is something they say will be availible in like 2016 or something. I for one am glad to see new a new flash RAM take over as I never had the feeling that NAND flash was really capable of giving us SSDs that are 'good' enough.

Intel is saying that they can mass produce by the end of the year, but it ultimately depends on the customer. What does that mean? Are there people out there that dont want this memory out on the market?

RE: If
By therealnickdanger on 3/9/2007 8:37:43 AM , Rating: 2
I found this kinda of puzzling as well, but that's only because I still haven't quite gotten used to Intel being so open and forthcoming about future projects. Basically all they are stating is the obvious. "If they build it, will people come?" I can almost ensure that the "comsumers" they refer to are flash memory vendors and government/military types. I doubt this tech will be affordable to the mainstream for a while. However, we won't know until they release it!

RE: If
By Cogman on 3/9/2007 9:05:59 AM , Rating: 2
it isn't going to be THAT expensive. One of the prime qualities of PRAM (according to the Wiki) is the fact that it is cheap to make. Initially, you will probably see prices like 100 - 200 for 512, but that will drop easily before 2016.

RE: If
By Scabies on 3/9/2007 10:02:29 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah right, you know that people are going to buy it anyways, provided the price difference between a 1gb flash drive and a 1gb pcm drive is acceptable. The average consumer cares nothing about performance, and will settle for function and price advantages as priorities. Note this does not apply to must DT regulars.
In fact, I imagine most people are totally unaware of how flash memory works, and that it has a somewhat predictable lifetime. Revolutionary technology means nothing to them, since what is currently available 'works' until someone says "think of it as flash 2.0" and/or says "they cost the same, but this one is better"

(also, someone mentioned eSATA. speaking of lifetimes, how often can you plug/unplug from eSATA? I know SATA (normal plastic) connections have less than a hundred connects/disconnects before the terminal starts breaking...)

RE: If
By jak3676 on 3/9/2007 4:11:54 PM , Rating: 2
Looks great, but with mass production possible this year, I would have liked to have seen some discussion on price. How does it compare to NAND, NOR or traditional DRAM? If its too early to look at end consumer pricing, perhaps they can discuss the complexity of manufacturing. If Intel can print wafers using their current 90nm manufactuing equipment that will at least give us an idea about price.

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