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Phase change memory inches closer to economic viability with storage capacity breakthrough


Scientists at IBM Research have managed to store 3 bits of data per cell using new phase change memory (PCM).

The technology, which could one day replace DRAM, has demonstrated considerable increases of read/write speed, endurance, non-volatility and density. Most importantly, it is able to keep data while powered off, unlike DRAM.

The breakthrough this week means researchers have essentially tripled the amount stored using the method; previous attempts had succeeded in storing 1 bit per cell in PCM. This was achieved in a 64k cell array at high temperatures and after 1 million endurance cycles, according to IBM.

“Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry,” Haris Pozidis, one of the authors of the paper and the manager of non-volatile memory research at IBM Research in Zurich said in a statement. “Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash.”

Unlike other more experimental technologies, PCM seems to have potential for mainstream adoption in the next few years.

Scientists see both standalone and hybrid applications where PCM and flash can work in tandem. The technology is touted to have “extremely” fast cache, allowing devices such as smartphones to boot up in seconds, allow for fast query processing such as in financial transactions, and even allows for 10 million write cycles as opposed to 3,000 write cycles from a traditional USB stick.