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Promising new memory chip technology by IBM, Macronix & Qimonda

The number of pixels in image sensors is growing at a notable rate, and although this does not bring much benefit any longer to compact digital cameras, it will certainly increase the need for faster and larger non-volatile memory chips. Non-volatile memory chips are used in the popular memory cards and do not require electrical power to retain their information. Scientists from IBM, Macronix and Qimonda have now announced a new type of computer memory with the potential to be the successor to flash memory chips...
Promising new memory chip technology by IBM, Macronix & Qimonda - digital camera and photography newsThe new "phase-change" chips will be extremely small, 500 times faster, and require half the power compared with today's flash memory chips. At the same time, Sharp announces its basic technology for the next-generation of non-volatile memory, which will be 100 times faster that the current flash memory cards. You should however not hold your breath as this new technology will probably not be available in this decennium.

Click for a link to some (large) Phase Change Memory animation AVI files


New "phase-change" material used in very small cell much faster than flash    
Scientists from IBM, Macronix and Qimonda today announced joint research results that give a major boost to a new type of computer memory with the potential to be the successor to flash memory chips, which are widely used in computers and consumer electronics like digital cameras and portable music players.

The advancement heralds future success for "phase-change" memory, which appears to be much faster and can be scaled to dimensions smaller than flash – enabling future generations of high-density "non-volatile" memory devices as well as more powerful electronics. Non-volatile memories do not require electrical power to retain their information. By combining non-volatility with good performance and reliability, this phase-change technology may also enable a path toward a universal memory for mobile applications.

Working together at IBM Research labs on both U.S. coasts, the scientists designed, built and demonstrated a prototype phase-change memory device that switched more than 500 times faster than flash while using less than one-half the power to write data into a cell. The device's cross-section is a minuscule 3 by 20 nanometers in size, far smaller than flash can be built today and equivalent to the industry's chip-making capabilities targeted for 2015. This new result shows that unlike flash, phase-change memory technology can improve as it gets smaller with Moore's Law advancements.

"These results dramatically demonstrate that phase-change memory has a very bright future," said Dr. T. C. Chen, Vice President, Science & Technology, IBM Research. "Many expect flash memory to encounter significant scaling limitations in the near future. Today we unveil a new phase-change memory material that has high performance even in an extremely small volume. This should ultimately lead to phase-change memories that will be very attractive for many applications."

The new material is a complex semiconductor alloy created in an exhaustive search conducted at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. It was designed with the help of mathematical simulations specifically for use in phase-change memory cells.

“Emerging memory technologies, like phase-change memory, are important elements of Qimonda's advanced memory development," said Dr. Wilhelm Beinvogl, Senior Vice President, Technical Innovation, Qimonda AG. "We have demonstrated the potential of the phase-change memory technology on very small dimensions laying out a scalability path. Thus phase-change memories have the clear potential to play an important role in future memory systems.”

The technical details of this research will be presented this week at the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineer's (IEEE's) 2006 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco (Paper 30.3: "Ultra-Thin Phase-Change Bridge Memory Device Using GeSb" by Y.C. Chen et al. Wednesday morning, December 13.) This paper was also one of only five to be chosen for the "Highlights of 2006 IEDM" session at the IEEE's International Solid-State Circuits Conference, which will be held in San Francisco in February 2007.

“Macronix has dedicated to developing non-volatile memories since it is formed,” added Miin Wu, Chairman and President of Macronix. "The recognition from IEDM and ISSCC proves that our collaborative efforts with IBM and Qimonda have achieved continuous success in phase-change memory technology. Besides the phase-change memory technology breakthrough, we have also been developing the new NAND Flash technology, BE-SONOS, as a solution for the data storage application. We are committed to always providing our customers with high performance, advanced non-volatile memories solutions."
December 12, 2006
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