The chip manufacturing community has long dreaded the day when flash memory could no longer shrink in size. But that day continues to be pushed back as chip manufacturers are seemingly slowing their commitment to invest in what many believe will be the primary replacement for flash: phase change memory (PCM), also known as phase change random access memory (PRAM).
Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif., doesn’t believe the conversion from flash to PCM will gain momentum until 2012. Then he would expect PCM to overtake flash within two years.
“As recently as 2002, Intel was very openly stating that after 65 nanometers nodes, you wouldn’t be able to manufacture flash using smaller and smaller processes,” said Handy. “In 2003, they found they can burst through that wall and get as far as 25nm. Now it looks like 25nm is the brick wall. But I am of the opinion that they might have another breakthrough between now and 2012 and that will push the brick wall.”
But once the brick wall is hit — and the flash technology can no longer be shrunk — he said, “That means you can no longer continue to reduce the cost of it. And all of a sudden it becomes a dinosaur… Until that point, manufacturers will dabble at [PRAM].”