Intel preps next-gen PCM chips

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Intel preps next-gen PCM chips

Phase-change memory promises to replace Flash and DRam.

Intel is scheduled to start sending the first samples of its next-generation phase-change memory (PCM) chips to device makers in the second quarter of this year. 

The technology combines the speed of DRam chips with the ability of Flash memory to retain information when the power is turned off, and has the potential to replace both technologies.

High data transfer speeds are needed to execute code where so-called non-volatile memory is used to store data in mobile devices where power consumption is a challenge.

"The nirvana is how to make non-volatile DRam," Ed Doller, chief technology officer at Intel's Flash memory group, said during a meeting with reporters at Intel's corporate headquarters. "Phase-change memory gets us pretty close to nirvana."

Intel is developing the memory with STMicroelectronics

Commonly referred to as PCM or PRam (phase-change Ram) the technology stores information by changing the phase of chalcogenide glass from crystalline to amorphous through the application of heat.

Doller claimed that the read and write speeds of the upcoming PCM will surpass that of Flash memory by a factor of at least 1,000.

The chip also allows applications to write information on top of existing data, whereas existing memory technologies require data to be deleted first before new information can be stored.

Although the technology is currently more expensive than traditional forms of Flash and DRam, Doller predicted that prices for PCM will drop to a lower level over time.

Intel will initially target its PCM at mobile phones, according to Doller, which typically store the operating system and user data on Nor Flash memory.

Samsung produced a 512Mb PCM prototype in September that is scheduled to go into production in 2008.  

IBM published a research study in December on its efforts to build a PCM which it claimed could sound the death knell for Flash.  

Intel showed off early silicon for a 128Mb device that was manufactured with 90nm technology in September.
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