A peek at new memory technologies
are working on several alternate technologies that could eventually replace
those in the three memory types commonly used today: low-cost Dynamic RAM (DRAM)
used in PCs and servers; fast Static RAM (SRAM) used for processor caches and
mobile devices; and non-volatile flash memory, used in everything from computer
BIOSs to cell phones. Here are some of them.
Researchers at IBM, Intel and other companies envision the
development of a universal memory technology that could someday replace all
three. For example, non-volatile RAM could allow computers to boot up and power
down instantly because stored information wouldnt be lost when power switches
off. That said, the emergence of a universal memory technology is probably at
least 10 to 15 years away.
RAM (FRAM) and Magneto-resistive RAM (MRAM) are the best-funded and most-evolved
among emerging memory technologies. FRAM is a non-volatile RAM that was developed
by Ramtron International. Its licenced by Texas Instruments and others.
More than 30 million products have already shipped using FRAM, including metering,
radio frequency identification and smart-card devices, according to Ramtron.
FRAM, which is based on nanoscale quantum dots, uses less power
and writes faster than DRAM or flash, and it has a long life span. The technology
remains 20 to 50 times more expensive per bit than DRAM, and chip density is
far lower. Ramtron is prototyping 1 MB parts today, and hopes to push the technology
to 4 MB or 8 MB in 2006. Until MRAM is ready for the market, however, FRAM is
the only game in town for non-volatile DRAM.
Phase-change memory (PCM) is a fast, non-volatile memory that proponents claim
could become a universal memory. IBM and Intel have each partnered with other
companies to develop the technology. While PCM technology is much faster than
flash, its slower than SRAM. To be competitive with DRAM, it would also
have to support unlimited writes. IBMs research shows that PCM can match
flashs 100,000-write limit, but endurance beyond that hasnt been