IBM Scientists Claim Phase-Change Memory Breakthrough

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IBM boffins have developed a new memory technology said to be cheaper and faster than Flash

IBM claims to have made a “significant advancement” in the field of computer memory, with a promising new technology called phase-change memory (PCM).

According to IBM Research, PCM can potentially offer non-volatile and high-density data storage that is 100 times faster and far more durable than Flash, which is of course the most commonly used non-volatile memory technology today.

“This significant improvement advances the development of low-cost, faster and more durable memory applications for consumer devices, including mobile phones and cloud storage, as well as high-performance applications, such as enterprise data storage,” said IBM.

Durability And Performance

Indeed, IBM is claiming that PCM would “allow computers and servers to boot instantaneously and significantly enhance the overall performance of IT systems.”

Another major positive is that PCM can endure 10 million write cycles, whereas enterprise-class Flash is only good for 30,000 cycles, and consumer-class Flash typically 3,000 cycles.

“While 3,000 cycles will out live many consumer devices, 30,000 cycles are orders of magnitude too low to be suitable for enterprise applications,” said IBM.

The news emerged of the memory breakthrough when IBM presented a whitepaper at the 3rd IEEE International Memory Workshop in Monterey, California.

IBM said that it had long been seeking a non-volatile memory technology alternative to Flash, that offered superior performance to Flash.

“As organisations and consumers increasingly embrace cloud-computing models and services, whereby most of the data is stored and processed in the cloud, ever more powerful and efficient, yet affordable storage technologies are needed,” said Dr. Haris Pozidis, Manager of Memory and Probe Technologies at IBM Research in Zurich.

“By demonstrating a multi-bit phase-change memory technology which achieves for the first time reliability levels akin to those required for enterprise applications, we made a big step towards enabling practical memory devices based on multi-bit PCM,” he added.

The Techy Bit

So how does it work? Beware readers, mild techy speak ahead.

Well, IBM scientists in Zurich did the demonstration using “advanced modulation coding techniques to mitigate the problem of short-term drift in multi-bit PCM, which causes the stored resistance levels to shift over time, which in turn creates read errors.”

Using that advanced modulation coding technique, the IBM scientists were able to mitigate drift and demonstrate long- term retention of bits stored in a subarray of 200,000 cells of their PCM test chip, fabricated in 90-nanometer CMOS technology.

The PCM test chip was designed and fabricated by scientists and engineers located in Burlington, Vermont; Yorktown Heights, New York and in Zurich.

According to IBM, this retention experiment has been under way for more than five months, indicating that multi-bit PCM can achieve a level of reliability that is suitable for practical applications.

Earlier this month IBM researchers made another scientific breakthrough when they delivered the first wafer-scale graphene integrated circuits that are smaller than a pinhead.

And In March this year a US research team at Illinois University developed phase-change memory that could extend battery life significantly.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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