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Smaller Circuit Size More Powerful Computers New Phase Memory

Flash memory, the reigning technology for portable memory devices, may be dethroned by an upcoming technology, called Phase memory or PRAM. The new memory technology is being developed by a number of different companies lead by IBM using a variety of materials and technology. Phase memory uses a new material that can change its state of matter and retain an electrical charge.

Flash Memory
Flash memory that works in a solid state, and differs from your computer’s hard drive which requires a number of mechanical moving parts. Essentially it is a type of ROM, known as EPROM, or Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory. Additionally this type of memory does not require an electric charge to retain information. Without becoming overly technical, Flash stores information in a grid of columns and rows. Information in this grid is stored as a value of either 1 or 0. In EPROM a value of 1 indicates a blank area, where 0 has been written. For more information about how ROM works see this article on HowStuffWorks.com.

Phase Memory
Phase memory differs from Flash memory in that the material from which memory cells are constructed actually has two different states. It can switch between two states of matter, crystalline and amorphous. It is from this property that a new type of memory derives the name “Phase Change”. Neither state requires electrical power to be retained, so the material is naturally non-volatile. Meaning, it won’t lose data in the absence of electrical power. This type of memory requires less power, and is scaleable to smaller dimensions than flash memory. Meaning memory units would be lighter, faster, and more efficient. In computer applications this means that a notebook with a phase-change memory device in place of a hard drive would be quieter, lighter, and run longer when running off of the battery. If applied to cell phones phase change memory would allow companies to create smaller, lighter devices with more features. Such phones would also run longer off of existing batteries, or a comparable amount of time off of a smaller, lighter battery. For more information about phase memory and its applications see this article from PC World.

Impact
At this time the impact of this technology is negligible as it is not yet in a state suitable for broad commercial use. The earliest estimate for this type of memory hitting the market is sometime in 2008. More conservative estimates put widespread application of Phase Memory beginning in 2010 or 2015. When it does become available computer storage devices will become quieter, lighter, and faster. Portable memory devices will become smaller, and capable of storing much greater amounts of information. Whenever it does become available it looks as though phase memory will quickly become the memory standard for computers and computing devices.

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