Phase Change Memory

By Evan Ackerman

It’s only been, what, about six years since 3.5″ floppy disks were the epitome of non-volatile rewritable memory? Flash memory changed everything for the oh so much better, but if Samsung (and Intel) have their way, we’re going to be seeing a new type of memory as soon as next year. It’s called phase-change memory, or PRAM. Made from the same materials as rewritable CDs and DVDs, PRAM stores bits (the equivalent of 1s and 0s) by changing a glass alloy between crystalline and amorphous states with the application of heat.

Intel PRAMCompared to flash, PRAM writes about 500 times faster while using half the power, is 1000 times more durable, and can be packed into a much denser area. PRAM also has significantly higher radiation resistance for those of you who work in nuclear power plants or outer space. So what’s the downside? Well, although it’s actually simpler to manufacture (in general) than flash, PRAM can’t be soldered after being programmed since it’s sensitive to high temperatures. This means that manufacturers are going to have to add a method of programming the PRAM after it’s been soldered to a circuit board. PRAM also requires a higher writing voltage than flash does.

My guess is that, due to the obvious advantages, PRAM is going to start replacing flash in the same way that flash is now replacing magnetic storage. It’s not gonna be quick, but it’s probably inevitable. There’s no information on pricing or availability of the first production units, but it’s rumored that we could start seeing some of this technology become available by 2008.

[ Samsung Press Release ] VIA [ CNet ]