The new type of memory, which is a likely successor to flash, could eventually replace DRAM in some systems.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 6, 2007

2 Min Read

LONDON — Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.) is preparing to sample a 90-nm 128-Mbit phase change memory to customers in the first half of 2007. Mass production could begin before the end of 2007 the chip giant said.

The memory is being introduced as a drop-in replacement for NOR flash non-volatile memory although its perfromance characteristics means it could be used it a greater range of applications and come to replace in DRAM in some systems, Intel said.

Brian Harrison, vice president of the flash memory group (FMG) at Intel and Ed Doller, chief technology officer of FMG, revealed the move at a meeting for analysts and press held in California on Tuesday (March 6).

Intel has been a licensee of chalcogenide-based phase change memory technology from Ovonyx Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (Rochester Hills, Mich.), since about 2000. Over this period Intel has been actively researching the technology even though Energy Conversion Devices has been touting the technology, without commercial success, for more than 30 years.

Intel and European chip maker STMicroelectronics NV announced they had teamed up their research on chalcogenide-based phase-change memory as a likely successor to flash as a non-volatile memory, in June 2006.

Interest in phase-change and other non-volatile memory technologies has increased markedly in the last five or six years as there are increasing concerns that flash memory may struggle to scale. Qimonda AG, formerly the memory operation of Infineon Tecnologies AG, is researching phase-change memory technology with IBM Corp. and Macronix of Hsinchu, Taiwan.

At the ISSCC in February 2007 Renesas Technology Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. discussed a phase-change non-volatile memory module for integration on microcontrollers used in embedded systems.

Doller told the meeting that Intel's 128-Mbit phase-change memory had demonstrated 100 million read-write cycles of endurance and a capability for much greater than 10 years data retention. "The phase-change memory gets pretty close to Nirvana," Doller said. "It will start to displace some of the RAM in the system."

Doller added that the samples that would be going out to customers were designed to be a drop-in NOR flash replacement. "We're going to be using this to allow customers to get familiar with the technology and help us architect the next generation device," said Doller. "That dialog is happening right now."

Doller added that the technology was showing good robustness against temperature: "We don't see any issue meeting industrial [temperature range]..."

When asked when the phase change memory would go into mass production Doller said: "We're hoping we can see production by the end of the year, but that depends on the customers."

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