Resistive RAM crams 1TB onto tiny chip

NAND Flash alternative could herald performance boost for phones, tablets and smart watches

Shona Ghosh
6 Aug 2013

Flash memory could soon be a thing of the past, according to one company that claims it's close to bringing resistive RAM (RRAM) to the market.

US startup Crossbar has announced it's smashed the technical barriers that have stopped RRAM from becoming a commercial reality so far.

Crossbar is touting impressive specs for the RRAM technology, promising 20 times the write performance at a fraction of the power consumption and size of the current best-in-class NAND flash modules.

The company also claims its technology can retain data for up to 20 years, compared with the standard one to three years with NAND flash.

The company said it's achieved a "simple and scalable" memory cell structure, consisting of three layers. The structure means cells can be stacked in 3D, squeezing terabytes of storage capacity onto a single chip the size of a postage stamp.

If such high-capacity chips come to fruition, Crossbar predicted a wave of faster enterprise and consumer devices with huge memory capacity - such as phones that could store all your music, photos and data.

"With our working Crossbar array, we have achieved all the major technical milestones that prove our RRAM technology is easy to manufacture and ready for commercialisation," said CEO George Minassian. "It’s a watershed moment for the non-volatile memory industry."

Technical barriers

Firms working on RRAM hope to disrupt the well-established NAND flash market, which is used in SSDs, as well as phones, cameras and other gadgets. Though widely adopted, flash memory has some drawbacks, such as limited write life.

It’s a watershed moment for the non-volatile memory industry

RRAM uses a different method to store data, storing bits by creating resistance rather than storing electrical charges. That requires less energy consumption and, depending on the material used, means more write life and capacity. Barriers to commercial development entail achieving the speed, endurance and retention of other memory technologies.

There aren't any Crossbar chips on the production line as yet, so the firm could still face hiccups during the manufacturing process. But the company did say it had built a working prototype, in readiness for the first wave of production.

Crossbar said it hopes to take on the traditional NOR and NAND flash memory markets with its own chips, and plans to licence its tech to system-on-a-chip developers.

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