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IBM and Samsung achieve breakthrough on flash killer for wearables, mobile devices

Lucas Mearian | July 13, 2016
MRAM could last virtually forever

In April, semiconductor maker Everspin Technologies announced it was shipping samples of the industry's most dense MRAM chip, which could replace standard DRAM for write-caching operations. The chip, with up to 1 gigabit of capacity, was the company's third generation of MRAM and is aimed at replacing persistent DRAM on servers and storage arrays.

In essence, Everspin's MRAM could act as the first tier of storage in a storage array or server, protecting data not yet stored on a mass storage device, such as NAND flash or hard disk. Everspin's MRAM uses a 40nm and 28nm size transistor compared with IBM's new 11nm cell.

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Everspin's 256Mbit ST-MRAM chip.

One of the largest markets for higher speed, lower power and longer lasting non-volatile memories like MRAM is the IoT The IoT includes vehicles, buildings and the sensors within them, which are enabled by network communications governed by computers. For example, smart thermostat systems use Wi-Fi for remote monitoring and can detect when people are in certain rooms and adjust temperatures accordingly to save power.

The IoT market alone is expected to grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020, according to industry research firm IDC.

Because IoT systems are often powered with batteries or are constantly monitoring and communicating, it's important that the power they consume remains low.

IBM and Samsung's MRAM sips power; it's able to write a bit of data with just 7.5 microamps, which allows IBM to use very small transistors enabling a very dense chip. Its write-error rates are also exceptionally low. For every billion bits (gigabit) written, there is less than one error, Worledge said.

Previously, the only MRAM that could achieve such as low error rate were produced using 100nm process technology, Worledge said, ten times larger than IBM's transistors.

"MRAM can be scaled to very small dimensions. The basic building block - a magnetic tunnel junction - can be made as small as 11 nanometers in size," Worledge said. "That means we could make very dense and fast MRAM chips in the future that can be used as fast cache memory in IBM servers."

Eleven nanometers is about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Worledge said he could not comment about when an MRAM product would reach the market. "IBM's role is to do research and development to lead the way to new products, which our partners will manufacture," he said.


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