Samsung first to next generation memory chip

In the race to introduce the next major memory technology, Samsung has taken the lead
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Samsung Electronics has announced it is producing 64Mb chip samples of a new memory technology, PRAM (phase-change RAM). Combining the speed of dynamic memory and the non-volatility of flash, this is the first practical example of a technology with the potential to replace both.

"Former chips were slower in saving and processing data," Kim Ki-nam, director at Samsung's semiconductor research centre, told Korean newspaper JoonAng Daily. "The PRAM is also much more cost-competitive, since the production process is actually simpler than for existing memory chips."

Samsung's announcement trumps Intel and SGS, both of whom are also developing the technology. Although Intel has been bullish about PRAM's potential, it has recently become more reticent as rumours persist that trial-run production yields have been vanishingly small. Samsung says that it will enter full-scale production with the technology in 2006.

Also known as ovionic memory, PRAM works by electrically heating tiny amounts of chalcogenide, a material currently used in rewritable DVDs. The material can cool into one of two states with different electrical conductivity, thus storing binary data that persists when power is removed. This gives the technology the potential to be used across the entire IT industry, providing it has the as-yet undemonstrated ability to scale into smaller and faster devices over time, supporting future generations of devices.

Other problems PRAM faces include long-term storage stability, the number of read/write cycles it can withstand and sensitivity to high temperatures. Samsung claims its chip can preserve data for more than two years, even in high temperatures of 85C, and is a thousand times more durable than existing flash memory chips.

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