IBM announced on Thursday that it had successfully implemented multi-level phase change memory (PCM). Phase change memory is a potential competitor for flash memory, and works by alternately crystallising and melting nanoscopic points of material on a chip through tiny pulses of energy.
"Scientists at IBM Research have demonstrated that a relatively new memory technology, known as phase-change memory (PCM), can reliably store multiple data bits per cell over extended periods of time. This significant improvement advances the development of low-cost, faster and more durable memory applications for consumer devices, including mobile phones and cloud storage, as well as high-performance applications, such as enterprise data storage.", the company said in a statement.
The new technology can be read and written 100 times faster than flash, the company said, and lasts a lot longer in use. Previous phase change memory systems have had just one bit per cell; IBM says it can store two bits per cell by adjusting the energy during the write process while monitoring exactly what state the cell's in. Another problem, that of a slow change of state over time leading to lost data, has been tackled by encoding data across groups of bits - as they all drift at the same rate, their relative states do not change and these are used to retrieve the information.
The company said that the new technology could be in use by 2016. Phase change memory has been under investigation by many companies since the 1960s, with Samsung, Intel and Hitachi among those making multiple announcements in the past decade. However, although a handful of parts have gone into production, the technology has not made significant gains against flash memory.