Minding the memory gap

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 24th, 2015.

Mark LaPedus of Semiconductor Engineering recently reported that memory chips and storage devices are struggling to keep pace with the growing demands of data processing.

“To solve the problem, chipmakers have been working on several next-generation memory types. [However], most technologies have been delayed or fallen short of their promises,” he explained.

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“But after numerous delays, a new wave of next-generation, nonvolatile memories are finally here. One technology, 3D NAND, is shipping and gaining steam. And three others—Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM), ReRAM and even carbon nanotube RAMs (NRAM)—are suddenly in the mix.”

As LaPedus emphasizes, not all technologies will ultimately be part of the evolving memory/storage hierarchy.

“For example, FeRAM remains stuck in the embedded market. Another technology, phase-change memory (PCM), appears to be fading from the picture,” said LaPedus. “MRAM, NRAM and ReRAM are more promising. But these technologies could meet the same fate as PCM (phase change memory) if they fail to hit the market window at a reasonable cost.”

According to Loren Shalinsky, a Strategic Development Director at Rambus, there is no shortage of ideas and research on how to fill the gaps in the memory hierarchy.

“It’s really all about finding the right combination of latency, bandwidth and price to match an application’s requirements and the budget of the user. Unfortunately, many of these new memories have been researched, but have proven difficult to bring to market,” he told Rambus Press. “Nevertheless, technologies like 3D NAND are gaining real market interest, as they are not trying to be a perfect memory, but rather a memory that is good enough to replace an existing technology (planar NAND), with a continued path to cost reduction.”

By approaching the market as a direct replacement technology, says Shalinsky, some of the above-mentioned memory standards are attempting to target the same applications as their respective predecessors.

“With NAND exceeding $30B a year, it’s really not a bad market to ‘replace,’” he added.

Meanwhile, other technologies, such as MRAM, RRAM, and 3D XPoint, are trying to fill the gap between NAND based systems and traditional DRAM.

“While the gap exists, it is quite large, meaning that there is room for multiple technologies to fill this gap,” Shalinsky concluded. “But since these technologies appear to be ‘in-between’ existing technologies, it may take some extra effort and time to get the market to accept a new memory usage model. Certainly having the backing of major semiconductor players is important and should help to minimize that acceptance time.”