New Memory Type
By Spencer Kittelson
Date: April 16, 2002
A new type of memory was announced last week by the University of Houston. As published on Eurekalert.org under the title Bye-bye rebooting? Researchers work to upgrade computer memory the new memory technology is non-volatile. According to Alex Ignatiev, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials at the University of Houston and one of the developers of the new technology, it is formed from very thin films of perovskite oxides called manganites. When these thin films are exposed to electrical pulses their resistive properties can be rapidly changed, becoming more or less resistive to the passage of electricity. In other words, their resistance can be programmed. The patented technology has been licensed to Sharp Corporation.
Commercially available consumer and military products can be expected in 3-5 years if the process bugs can be worked out, if it works as currently characterized and if the products can be produced economically. That's a lot of ifs and many a potential wonder-thingy has fallen by the wayside. However, since more and more of our memory demands are for essentially read-only purposes, high density, low power, non-volatile storage will become ever more a requirement (think voice recognition data structures or other forms of reference and look-up data). This technology could become the successor to existing flash memory. It's worth keeping an eye on.
Here are some of the characteristics of this product that were revealed via a brief email exchange with Mr. Ignatiev:
Other than the mention of low nanosecond switching speed there is no current information on read/write bandwidth or latency predictions (this is proprietary information in keeping with the license to Sharp). Since it is non-volatile I suspect that significant buffer circuitry will be required to perform read-rewrite operations when it is written to.