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IBM rewrites the memory game

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 20:57 IST
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Rewriting storage rules

Imagine a memory chip that is 500 times faster than the current flash cards. Imagine a chip that uses less than one-half the power to write data into a cell.

As the demand for portable storage for music, video and photo has increased, so has the pace of innovation. This new innovation shows that unlike flash, phase-change memory technology can improve as it gets smaller with Moore's Law advancements. The organisation behind the current innovation is IT major IBM along with scientists from Macronix and Qimonda.

The new innovation from IBM

Scientists of IBM, Macronix and Qimonda have announced joint research results that give a major boost to a new type of computer memory with the potential to be the successor to flash memory chips, which are widely used in computers and consumer electronics like digital cameras and portable music players.

The advancement heralds future success for "phase-change" memory, which appears to be much faster and can be scaled to dimensions smaller than flash - enabling future generations of high-density "non-volatile" memory devices as well as more powerful electronics.

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 also enable a path toward a universal memory for mobile applications.

The wonder alloy

The new material is a complex semiconductor alloy created in an exhaustive search conducted at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. It was designed with the help of mathematical simulations specifically for use in phase-change memory cells.

The semiconductor alloy 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. This in simple terms means more stability in storage and less crashing. Remember "volatile" memories lose their stored information whenever their power supply is interrupted.

The demand for storage

As we transcend into the electronic civilisation the demand for storage increases. Data, music, photos, videos, the list is endless as everything gets into its electronic avatar. Besides, on the corporate front, the demand is rising as companies require storage for emails, documents and other data plus protection of data from calamities. The current demand is estimated at approximately $20 bn with a growth rate of approximately 10 per cent annually.

The last word

IBM isn't the only one in the non-volatile storage market. There are also initiatives by organisations like Intel, Samsung amongst others. Just this August, Toshiba and SanDisk teamed up in Japan on a $2.6-billion flash memory plant.

There are several other initiatives. In IBM's case, the "500 times faster" in its mini avatar promise by the new alloy is a definitive breakthrough. Looking forward to see how the product performs in actual conditions soon.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at www.cyberzest.com and edits www.thebusinessedition.com .

Email Puneet Mehrotra: puneet @cyberzest.com

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