Memory, the behind the scenes star of a high-tech world is about to experience a revolution. The first volley was fired this week when Everspin Technologies announced the availability of their first DDR3 ST-MRAM chip, the EMD3D064M magnetic memory chip.
The new DDR3 ST-MRAM chips combine the speed of DDR3 RAM with the non-volatile nature of NAND flash ST-MRAM. These two qualities provide the potential to unify the memory sub-systems used by today’s gadgets. Blurring the lines between installed and running applications, both becoming the same.
Magnetic memory this fast also opens the interest possibility of a truly always on computer, instant on and off with the hard drive and RAM unified. Many things have to change before that day but it is an interesting possibility none the less.
Various types of memory have traditionally been used to keep a computing system fed and crunching numbers at top speed. DDR RAM for system memory and FLASH or hard disks for storage. Even holes punched in paper at one stage was considered a viable storage option.
ST-MRAM represents the first on sale product that could unify the storage world, your system RAM is your hard-drive and vice versa. Potentially providing the spark to revolutionize the way we use memory in every computing device, from smartphone to supercomputer.
Everspin have created a new take or spin on magnetic memory. In theory a far simpler and lower power technology than previous versions of MRAM. Everspin use only a single magnetic tunnel junction (MJT) and one transistor to construct each magnetic cell, or bit. The cell will retain its memory without power or constant refreshing, which should eventually see it become very power efficient. This first generation however uses roughly 5 times more power than a standard DDR3 module of this size, not a huge issue but it does need work.
Write-wear is one of the major issues for today’s NAND Flash manufacturers; NAND has a limited number of writes per cell, often as low as 10,000 writes on cheaper NAND. ST-MRAM is different however, data is stored as a magnetic state instead of an electric charge (as with NAND), allowing ST-MRAM unlimited writes.
The cost of these first generation chips is going to be an issue till mass productions begins, costing 300 times more than FLASH per gigabyte, MRAM will be limited to tasks requiring small amount of memory. The prices hopefully will drop as density and technology improves.
Built onto standard JEDEC DDR3 modules Everspin have found a very nice vehicle to get their product to market quickly. Creating the interfaces and standards to support MRAM’s benefits is going to be a long road, with years of red tape to work through. Supplying the new memory on standard DDR3 modules allows customers to test the memory today.
The fact that MRAM is already quick enough to slot directly in as DDR3 is an impressive feet for such a new technology. None of this however negates the need for the new infrastructure; interfaces and standards created, motherboards upgraded and operating systems re-written. It’s really only at that point we will know ST-MRAM is the new standard for memory.
The next revolution in computing has begun; many things have to fall into place before a winner can be declared but MRAM has stepped up to the competition and fired the first shot. Everspin are now giving the world a glimpse into the future of memory, tests are being conducted and chins are being stroked. All signs are pointing to a magnetic unified future.