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NRAM set to spark a 'holy war' among memory technologies

Lucas Mearian | Jan. 13, 2017
Your next smartphone could be a carbon-based lifeform

"It has had a long history of high hopes that went undelivered till now," BCC Research said. "However, this report reveals to the public for the first time actual chip architecture. Coupled to licensing announcements anticipated (early) in the first quarter of 2017, the tide will turn precipitously."

Over the past 16 years, NRAM has sputtered as it's attempted to catch on as a new memory technology. As early as 2003, for example, industry pundits were predicting it would challenge the memory market. In 2005, Nantero itself pronounced NRAM as a "universal memory" that would be in production the next year; the memory, however, remained in the engineering phase through 2009.

BCC Research described NRAM's lengthy path to market as "a classic David versus Goliath adventure...only now David has successfully enlisted the help of one of Goliath's cousins, Fujitsu."

Nantero NRAM  

NRAM market by memory application type. ($ millions)

In August, Fujistu Semiconductor Ltd. became the first manufacturer to announce it is mass producing the NRAM.

Fujitsu plans to develop a custom embedded storage-class memory module using the DDR4 interface by the end of 2018, with the goal of expanding the product line-up into a stand-alone NRAM product family from Fujitsu's foundry, Mie Fujitsu Semiconductor Ltd.; the stand-alone memory module will be sold through resellers, who'll rebrand it.

Using the DDR4 specification interface, NRAM could sport up to 3.2 billion data transfers per second or 2.4Gbps -- more than twice as fast as NAND flash. Natively, however, the NRAM's read/write capability is thousands of times faster than NAND flash, Greg Schmergel, CEO of Nantero, said. The bottleneck, therefore, is the computer BUS interface.

"Nanotube switch [states] in picoseconds -- going off to on and on to off," Schmergal said in an earlier interview with Computerworld. A picosecond is one trillionth of a second.

Carbon nanotubes are strong -- very strong. In fact, they're 50 times stronger than steel, and they're only 1/50,000th the size a human hair. Because of carbon nanotubes' strength, NRAM has far greater write endurance compared to NAND flash.

The best NAND flash, with error correction code, can withstand about 100,000 erase-write cycles. According to Nantero, NRAM can withstand 1012 write cycles and 1015 read cycles -- an almost infinite number.

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 comprises the network of the carbon nanotubes that exist between two metal electrodes. The memory acts the same way as other resistive non-volatile RAM technologies.

Nantero NRAM  


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