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So Long Flash, and Thanks for the Memory

Intel and STMicroelectronics have managed to produce a breakthrough in a new type of memory technology that could replace flash. Members of their joint venture Numonyx, which is trying to develop memory chips reliant on phase-change memory (PRAM) to store information, will present a paper today demonstrating how they’ve used it to double the amount of information they can store. It’s good news, but it still means it will cost twice as much to store the same amount of data on PRAM chips compared with the competing flash technology.

Phase-change memory relies on changes in temperature to store data; it competes with NOR flash, which is used to store the programs that run your VCR, set-top box and cell phone. The other type of flash, NAND, is used to store larger amounts of memory, such as the songs on an iPod.

Like all chips, memory follows Moore’s Law, which requires the space between transistors to get smaller. Kind of like doing the limbo, flash memory may not be able to go any lower. By allowing storage capacity to continue to expand while making chips ever smaller (and more cost-effective to produce), PRAM could provide the next breakthrough. However, although the breakthrough from Intel and STMicro puts PRAM at the same cost as NOR flash, it only stores half the data. So another breakthrough is still needed.

10 Responses to “So Long Flash, and Thanks for the Memory”

  1. 600 C? Holy cow! That’s verging on the melting point of Aluminum. Though I do admit when I read heat is this memory’s mechanism, I thought “What does that mean to something I leave in my car on a sunny day?” Will my portable little drive get erased if it cooks for an afternoon?

  2. Stacey Higginbotham

    Scionguy, The heat required is intense, around 600 degrees Celsius, so you should be okay. Kris, this is theoretical and perhaps I should have resisted the compelling headline opportunities and pointed out that this was first theorized in 1970. Mea culpa.

  3. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for this, but if it “relies on changes in temperature to store data” then how do outside elements affect it? If I’m copying a large file and carry my laptop from my 95-degree deck to my 68-degree house.. what does that do to the transfer that’s in progress?

  4. Strange to see this trumpeted so much. The technology has been around for a long time. Some guy started a company called Ovonyx (sp?) and I believe that a public company, ENER, owns a major share of it. The technology has indeed been licensed by firms like Intel and Samsung although the terms appear to be unknown.

    This is one fairly obscure paper in a sea of advance for NAND and other memory technology papers.

    To put a headline like this “So long FLASH… ” is pretty irresponsible.

    It’s one of the emerging technologies that we watch and it could become more mainstream but certainly not from this paper.