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MRAM developers on target for rollout within 2004

Posted: 08 Jul 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:magnetic-ram? memory chip?

Near the end of the 1990s, a flurry of announcements promised a 2004 rollout for a radical approach to memory chip technology based on manipulating electron spin. Now, halfway through the year, magnetic-RAM samples have yet to appear, but some companies may still make good on their initial MRAM projections.

"There appear to be no major barriers to commercialization for our principal licensees-Motorola's Freescale Semiconductor subsidiary and Cypress," said Daniel Baker, CEO of NVE Corp. "Motorola is doing product engineering and has said they expect pilot production by late this year. Cypress has said they could sample 'anytime,' but they want to reduce the soft-error rate before they sample."

NVE recently received a patent on an approach for writing data based on transferring spin momentum from electric currents to MRAM cells. The approach was developed with Cornell University's Center for Nanoscale Systems. Government agencies are funding the company's work on other MRAM techniques.

Elsewhere, NEC Corp. and Toshiba Corp. have a joint program that is exploring magnetic tunnel junction technology. NEC described a prototype 512Kb MRAM for mobile applications at last year's International Solid-State Circuits Conference. IBM Corp. and Infineon Technologies AG have also teamed up for a joint development project, and Honeywell Inc. is working jointly with Motorola Inc. to develop a magnetoresistive RAM for military projects. And Samsung Electronics and Sharp Corp. are individually pursuing the technology.

The goal of current MRAM research is to reduce the energy required to write a bit and find some way to isolate neighboring cells so that their magnetic states do not interact and corrupt the data. Both are required if MRAM arrays are to scale down to a size compatible with DRAMs. That would make MRAM a serious competitor: It would be low-power, nonvolatile, radiation-hardened and capable of storing the entire operating system of a personal computer.

Two approaches to magnetothermal MRAM, Neel-point writing and Curie-point writing, are the best bets for achieving DRAM scales, said NVE's Baker. Magnetothermal RAM uses waste heat generated on-chip to make the change of magnetic state more energy-efficient. Such thermal assist could be used with the spin-momentum effect developed in conjunction with Cornell or with a nanopillar cell being studied. Initial markets would be portable or remote battery backup systems.

Honeywell, meanwhile, has developed a rad-hard silicon-on-insulator technology and hopes to integrate MRAM on-chip to produce a highly reliable solution for space applications.

If MRAMs prove to be a disruptive technology, they might propel electronics into a general spintronics era. Research labs are already looking into spintronic logic circuits and are working on the processing equipment to fabricate them.

- Chappell Brown

EE Times

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