Summary:

Crossbar has come out of stealth with a demonstration unit of resistive RAM that could present a viable next-generation alternative to NAND flash for devices and servers.

Minassian
photo: Crossbar

A startup is emerging from stealth with a design for next-generation non-volatile memory that it claims will be easier for fabrication plants to implement than other emerging technologies.

Crossbar, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has made a demonstration array of its resistive RAM technology.

This memory capable of storing information even when power is off contains “a non-metallic bottom electrode, an amorphous silicon switching medium and a metallic top electrode,” according to a company statement. A filament is formed in the switching part when voltage is sent between the electrodes. In other words, it’s stable and based on simple components, said Crossbar’s CEO, George Minassian (pictured). The building blocks are small and can result in very high density, he said. The company has submitted more than 100 patents on its technology.

The result, according to the company, is that more than 1 TB can fit on a chip in a design that can be stacked vertically. That design uses one-twentieth the amount of power of top traditional non-volatile NAND flash memory. It can handle writes 20 times faster than NAND. And it can keep a battery running for weeks or longer. A mobile device with one of these chips could let you carry around 250,000 songs, or 350,000 pictures.

Crossbar aims to begin commercializing the technology next year and to license it to fab owners for integration inside system-on-chips (SoCs). Production for server-side deployments — as memory and in solid-state disks — will come later.

“Roughly, in my experience, it takes two to three years to introduce the product to the market for high-density server applications,” said Minassian, who was previously head of strategic marketing and systems engineering at AMD spinoff Spansion.

Since its founding in 2010, Crossbar has raised at least $20.5 million, according to an SEC filing. Artiman Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Northern Light are investors, and Crossbar is working to close a Series C round.

The laws of physics are getting in the way of to producing NAND flash in smaller sizes each year, and Crossbar’s resistive RAM technology is one possible solution to the problem, said Jim Handy of Objective Analysis. There are other companies and approaches to contend with, though, including HP’s memristor, Everspin‘s MRAM, and the ferroelectric RAM technology that Cypress Semiconductor picked up from Ramtron. For all parties involved, the hard part is moving beyond silicon, which is very well understood in comparison with, say, lead or iron. And now that Crossbar’s plans are known, they could accelerate the push across many companies to develop memory with greater capacity and less power for mobile devices and servers.

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