Flash memory: old news. Here's PCM (and schadenfreudian slip)

Savior of the universe! It's IT Blogwatch, in which a future competitor to flash memory breaks cover. Not to mention a schadenfreud-ful video of Honda's Asimo robot falling down some stairs...

Dan Nystedt has this news-flash: [you're fired -Ed.]

Flash memory and hard disk drives could face a challenge from a new chip technology, dubbed phase-change memory [PCM], being developed by a group of companies led by IBM. The companies on Monday announced the results of their latest research into the technology, which they say ... could someday replace disk drives.


The chips would be a new type of nonvolatile memory, which is memory that can hold its electrical charge -- and its data -- after devices are turned off ... Among the advances, the companies have built a prototype device that runs 500 times faster than today's flash memory while using half as much power to write data to a memory cell, they said ... Besides IBM, the developers include Qimonda AG, the DRAM spin-off of Infineon Technologies AG, and Macronix International Co.

Alice Hill adds:

Flash is on fire right now with the profusion of thumb drives, and small devices skipping the platters and going straight to the chip for storage. But flash has limitations including price, capacity, and a finite read-write capability that makes it ripe for an upgrade ... Some of the benefits include a much higher density which mean packing even more onto a smaller chip. For you density geeks (and I know you are there) that means a chip cross section that is 3 by 20 nanometers and based on the pace of current flash memory improvements, it would take until 2015 to get Flash slimmed down to that level ... will work 500 times faster and use half the power.

We Say:
What else? We want it now. The official announcement comes on Monday at the IEEE engineeering convention in San Francisco, so there is no word yet on timing and/or pricing. Just don’t make us wait until 2015 to see one of these in our next camera or phone.

Here's Robin Harris, with his perspective-mojo:

The underlying technology is cool: a bit of germanium-antimony (GeSb) alloy which can be rapidly changed from a low-resistance crystalline state to a high-resistance disordered amorphous state ... Intel has been working on phase-change memory since 2000 and Samsung, world’s largest producer of NAND flash, has also shown a prototype phase-change part and even made vague noises about commercial production in 2008. Today’s paper, by researchers from IBM, Qimonda and Macronix, ups the ante and the buzz by bringing new entrants to what might be a new race to market.
So many promising storage technologies never reach commercial production because the benefits they promise today won’t be delivered for years ... Some flash partisans maintain that flash manufacturing, not CMOS, is now driving the technology investments of chip equipment makers. All that technology and investment delivers a fast-moving target that new technologies find hard to catch ... they’ve got at least 2 years of work to get product to market, and a lot can happen in two years.
Yet if they can pull it off, and I’m rooting for them, they’ll change storage economics in a big way. Imagine 256 GB phase-change solid-state disks that never wear out with one-tenth the power consumption of 2.5″ disk drives offering 100 times the IOPS. Even at several times the price of a rotating disk there are many applications - database and webserving come to mind - where such a device would be economic.

Jon Stokes adds:

From what I can tell [IBM's PCM] implementation looks to be a bit different than Samsung's [PRAM]. Samsung is claiming that their PRAM is 30 times faster than conventional Flash, a figure that's much slower than IBM's alleged 500x speedup. Samsung's PCM appears to be geared toward a production process that's a modification of the existing DRAM production process, possibly giving it a time-to-market advantage over a more exotic but faster design like IBM's. (Don't quote me on this assessment, though, because I may be wrong about this tradeoff. If I am, please enlighten me.)

Both IBM and Samsung's technologies ultimately work by using electrical pulses to induce a change in the crystalline structure of a semiconductor material, thereby changing its resistance. Once the material's state is changed, it stays that way even in the absence of power, until another pulse changes it back.

Jordan Kahn shows us the money:

My Stock of the Day is Energy Conversion Devices (ENER). The stock is getting a nice bounce on the news that IBM and friends are working on a new phase change memory flash chip that could result in royalty revenues for ENER. Merriman noted today that they believe there is little if no value being given in the market for this division, as reflected in the current price of ENER. Today, the stock is spiking higher on a big surge in volume. It is also brushing up against its overhead 200-day. But clearing this resistance level would pave the way for more gains in the near future.

Brian Wang futurizes:

Stan Ovshinsky's invented phase change memory which is also called ovonics unified memory. He also has invented the Ovonic Quantum Control, a unique proprietary all thin-film transistory replacement control device. It is based on new physics and has multifunctionality beyond that of transistors.

[Ah yes, "new physics" -- so much better than that old physics]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Asimo-chan makes a schadenfreudian slip

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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