"Nanotube switch [states] in picoseconds -- going off to on and on to off," Schmergal said. A picosecond is one trillionth of a second.
Because the company designed the memory using the DDR4 interface, speeds will be limited by the bus interface; thus, it only has the potential to be 1,000 times faster than DRAM on a technical specification sheet.
Another advantage is that NRAM is resistant to extreme heat. It can withstand up to 300 degrees Celsius. Nantero claims its memory can last thousands of years at 85 degrees Celsius and has been tested at 300 degrees Celsius for 10 years. Not one bit of data was lost, the company claims.
How NRAM works
Carbon nanotubes are grown from catalyst particles, most commonly iron.
NRAM is made up of an interlocking fabric matrix of carbon nanotubes that can either be touching or slightly separated. Each NRAM "cell" or transistor is made up by a network of the carbon nanotubes that exist between two metal electrodes. The memory acts the same way as other resistive non-volatile RAM technologies.
Carbon nanotubes that are not in contact with each other are in the high resistance state that represents the "off" or "0" state. When the carbon nanotube contact each other, they take on the low-resistance state of "on" or "1."
In terms of new memories, NRAM is up against an abundant field of emerging technologies that are expected to challenge NAND flash in speed, endurance and capacity, according to Handy.
For example, Ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) has shipped in high volume; IBM has developed Racetrack Memory; Intel, IBM and Numonyx have all produced Phase-Change Memory (PCM); Magnetoresistive Random-Access Memory (MRAM) has been under development since the 1990s; Hewlett-Packard and Hynix have been developing ReRAM, also called Memristor; and Infineon Technologies has been developing Conductive-Bridging RAM (CBRAM).
Another potential NRAM competitor, however, could be 3D XPoint memory, which will be released this year by development partners Intel and Micron.
Micron, which will market it under the name QuantX (and Intel under the name Octane), is targeting NAND flash because the technology is primarily a mass storage-class memory that, while slower, is cheaper to produce than DRAM and vastly faster than NAND.
"We're at DRAM speed. We have far greater endurance," Schmergel said.
"It should be superior to 3D XPoint, which wears and has a slower write than read cycle," Handy said. "If this is true, and if its costs can be brought to something similar to DRAM's costs, then it is positioned to replace DRAM. Cost is the big issue here though, since it takes very high unit volumes for prices to get close to those of DRAM.
"It's a chicken-and-egg problem: Costs will drop once volumes get high enough, and volume will get high if the cost is competitive with DRAM costs."
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