Seoul (South Korea) – Samsung has taken another important step in the development of a memory technology, called Phase-change Random Access Memory (PRAM), which in a few years could constitute a more performing and cheaper alternative to NOR flash . Due to their characteristics, the latter are typically used for the permanent storage of data rarely subject to change, such as firmware and the operating system of mobile devices.
The Korean giant has developed a 512 Mbit PRAM memory device consisting of cells with half the size of those of NOR flash chips. The company says this feature is synonymous with low production costs and “virtually unlimited” scalability.
PRAMs are able to combine some of the characteristics of traditional DRAM memories, such as the ability to overwrite data without erasing it first with the non volatility of flash memories, which allows it to preserve data even in the absence of electricity. For these reasons Samung has nicknamed the new memories Perfect RAM.
Thanks to the conductive properties of a particular chalcogenic ceramic material, capable of existing in both the amorphous and crystalline physical state, Samsung claims that PRAMs are up to 30 times faster than flash memory conventional and at least 10 times longer lasting , that is, capable of withstanding a greater number of read / write cycles. These features could make them particularly suitable for solid state hard drive where inexpensive NAND flash (the same used in memory cards and USB drives) are currently used.
If it is indeed true that Samsung sees PRAMs as future replacements for NOR flashes, there are those who say that this new type of memory could also undermine the NAND market . However, the Korean company does not seem very interested in this possibility: not only does it hold almost 50% of the traditional NAND flash market in its hands, but it has already introduced an evolution of this technology called OneNAND on the market.
Samsung plans to market the first PRAM chips during 2008. Initially these memories will probably be used in devices such as cell phones, PDAs, set-top boxes and printers, but in the future they could also carve out a space inside computers.
To the PRAM memoirs, conceived in 1966 by the American researcher Stanford Ovshinsky, several other giants are also working of the industry, including Intel, STMicroelectronics, Toshiba and Hitachi. The company with the most patents on PRAMs is Ovonyx, whose Ovonic Unified Memory technology has also been licensed by Samsung.
Among the most promising alternatives to flash memories there are also the Magnetic RAM recently launched by Freescale.