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New type of memory in development

Flash memory and hard drives could be outdated by a new chip technology called phase change memory, which is currently under development by a group of companies led by IBM.

These companies recently announced the results obtained as a result of their latest research in this technology, which indicates that they will obtain better performance in storing songs, images and other data on iPod devices and digital cameras compared to current flash memory ; and that could also replace hard drives.

Among other advances, these companies have created a prototype that works 500 times faster compared to current flash memory, while using half the energy to write the information in the memory cell.

The device’s circuits are much smaller than those used in flash memory, with a size of only 2 x 20 nanometers, demonstrating that, contrary to what happens with flash memory, phase shift memory can be used with advanced production techniques and systems that will be available around 2015.

This progress is due in part to the development of a new material that makes it possible to create memory chips; It is a germanium alloy to which the researchers add other elements to improve its properties. The companies involved in this development have applied for a patent on this material.

The chips could constitute a new type of non-volatile memory, which is the memory that can maintain its electrical charge, and therefore the stored data, even after the device is turned off. Flash memory is also non-volatile, but phase shift memory can hold and use its electrical charge more efficiently.

Flash memory is also facing a deadlock. As engineers downsize circuit chips, circuits also make worse use of power by reducing their ability to store data after power is turned off. It seems that the limit is around 45nm, although there are still a few years left before the flash memory industry begins to use these production technologies.

The phase shift memory can be reduced to 22nm; It also appears that it will be more durable than flash memory, whose cells begin to lose qualities after 100,000 writes.