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IBM, SK Hynix team up in memory tech

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:phase-change memory? storage class memories? PCRAM?

Memory IC maker SK Hynix Inc. will be working together with IBM Corp. in developing non-volatile phase-change memory technology and products. As part of their deal, SK Hynix will manufacture the memories, which will offer multilevel cell capability and be aimed at storage for servers.

SK Hynix is planning to produce phase-change random access memories (PCRAMs) for use in power-efficient servers, so called storage class memories (SCMs). The company is now covering three bets on future memory technology with agreements in place with Toshiba on magnetic RAM, with Hewlett-Packard Co. on resistive RAM (ReRAM), and with IBM on PCRAM.

SK Hynix did not provide a timetable for the introduction of commercial products based on phase-change memory (PCM) technology nor provide an indication of what memory capacity would be targeted or what minimum geometry manufacturing process would be used to produce the memories.

The combination of IBM's expertise in such disciplines as MLC and SK Hynix's manufacturing capabilities will help accelerate the commercialization of PCRAM technology, SK Hynix said.

Phase-change memory, based on the resistance change that comes with the transition of chalcogenide alloys from an amorphous to crystalline phase, has been under research for many decades. It has long held the promise that it could offer superior cycling endurance to NAND flash memory and offer superior performance, but so far the rapid scaling of NAND has prevented any impact on the chip market.

Hynix has done some research into phase-change memory prototyping a 40nm 1Gb PCRAM component, but is better known for having teamed up with Hewlett-Packard Co. with plans to introduce a metal-oxide based "memristor" variable resistance memory in 2013. IBM has its own research into PCM including such developments as multilevel cell (MLC) operation and has expressed long-term interest in the technology.

"PCM has potential..."
Samsung and Micron Technologies Inc. (through its acquisition of Numonyx NV), are the two companies that have got close to offering non-volatile phase change memory for commercial use. Micron is offering serial and parallel versions of a 128Mb PCM. However, there are almost no reports of phase-change memories in the field.

"Alongside STT-MRAM and ReRAM currently under joint development with Toshiba and HP respectively, PCRAM will enrich our portfolio of next-generation memory technologies. SK Hynix will continue to endeavor to seek possible partnerships that will elevate our competence in the ever evolving semiconductor industry," said Hyun Jong Song, senior vice president and head of the future strategy division at SK Hynix, in a statement.

"Phase-change memory technology has the potential to enable a new class of low-cost, high-performance memory technologies for consumer devices, cloud computing, data storage and other enterprise applications," said T.C. Chen, IBM Fellow and vice president of science and technology for IBM Research, in a statement issued by SK Hynix. "Working with SK Hynix will speed the development and production of PCRAM devices based on our breakthrough multibit, phase-change memory technology," he added.

"PCRAM may be able to reshape the landscape of the memory industry by introducing storage-class memory (SCM), a promising next generation memory class, designed to boost performance and reduce power consumption for enterprise servers. PCRAM will bridge a gap between the current DRAM and solid-state drives (SSDs) as it takes the role of a buffer memory," SK Hynix said in the statement.

The memory opportunity for servers, which includes DRAM and SSD, will expand from $8 billion in 2012 to $16 billion in 2016, and the SCM opportunity at that time, driven by demand for PCRAM from server makers, will be worth $1.4 billion and continue to grow for years thereafter, SK Hynix said referencing market researcher Gartner Inc. as its source.

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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