Today scientists from IBM, Macronix and Qimonda unveiled a new type of memory with the intention of possibly being a replacement for flash memory which is used in many electronic gadgets today.
The new memory announced today is called “phase-change” memory. The memory would have the same applications as flash memory, but with a a couple key advantages. First of all, the phase-change memory has shown to be faster than flash memory; up to 500 times faster. It would also only consume about half the power that flash memory does, even with the greater speed. Secondly, the phase-change memory is smaller. A cross section of the new memory prototype measures only 3 x 20 nanometers.
“These results dramatically demonstrate that phase-change memory has a very bright future,” said Dr. T. C. Chen, Vice President, Science & Technology, IBM Research. “Many expect flash memory to encounter significant scaling limitations in the near future. Today we unveil a new phase-change memory material that has high performance even in an extremely small volume. This should ultimately lead to phase-change memories that will be very attractive for many applications.”
Flash memory is a type of non-volatile memory which does not need a constant source of electricity for it to retain it’s data. This has become very popular in many different devices such as digital cameras and music players, as well as thumb drives. Information can be transferred onto the memory storage device, and the device can be removed requiring no external power or batteries. The memory device can be then inserted into a different device or reader and transfer out the retained information.
Volatile memory does require a continuous power source or it will “leak” it’s information. This is somewhat by design, as volatile memory is faster and more economical to make. This works in devices such as computers to hold information temporarily while the computer is running, but it does not need to retain it when it loses power.
Scientists were able to design, build and demonstrate a prototype of this memory with a complex semiconductor alloy created by IBM’s Almaden Research Center. The alloy can be quickly switched between and hold two different “phases” without requiring an electrical charge, one phase having a lower electrical resistance than the other. These two phases represent the “on” and off” to be able to set, store and read information.
Press Release [IBM]