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It Can Do What? Tech Giants Look Into Phase-Change Memory

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2005-05-25

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Macronix, Infineon, and IBM are combining efforts to investigate the potential of a new kind of computer memory that may change the face of processing. It's called phase-change memory (PCM).

Still in the early stages of development, researchers for the tech giants report that PCM uses a method of data storage that works by changing the state of special material from an amorphous structure to a crystalline structure instead of being stored as an electrical charge.

All that technical jargon translates to the possibility of high-speed, high-density memory, working more similarly to the human brain, i.e., and electrically charged chemical soup that maintains data even when the power is turned off.

The technology could help reduce the size of memory cells below micron sizes, and help solve the problem of heat dissipation other problems that come with quantum physics.

Already used in optical storage media like DVD rewritable discs where the reflectivity of the material, not the state, changes after a laser heats it up to a sufficient temperature. The same laser is used to detect the change.

PCM has been delayed for a while because the switch in states requires very high voltages. By using a new doping material, Antimony/Tellurium, the field strength is lowered enough become a practical reality in the future.

Liable to take several years before PCM makes its entry into mainstream usage, IBM and company are expected to commit 20-25 researchers to develop it.

"The project will aim to develop the materials for high performance, advanced nonvolatile memory and evaluate these materials in realistic memory chip demonstrations," said T.C. Chen Vice president of science and technology at IBM Research.

But even when the technology is available in coming years, market analysts feel that it won't be affordable enough to replace less expensive flash and DRAM memory currently being used.

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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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