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Is Flash Heading for Retirement?

Is Flash Heading for Retirement?
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The time has come that we can no longer do without Flash memory in our day-to-day IT work. There are few segments in which the now 16 year-old technology has not caught on - whenever compact, fast and non-volatile storage solutions are needed, we fall back on Flash. This applies most of all to digital cameras and cell phones; portable USB sticks are also rapidly gaining in popularity. The capacities of memory cards have increased dramatically, passing the Gigabyte mark long ago. Current compact Flash cards with sizes up to 8 GB can be had for less than $1000.

The major manufacturers - Samsung, Toshiba, Spansion (AMD/Fujitsu), Intel and ST Microlelectronics - enjoy steady business with healthy revenue growth from quarter to quarter. Despite Flash technology's ripe old age, the industry remains in a market that is still developing, with production and sales volumes that cannot really be predicted.

Despite this, developers and manufacturers are already discussing, in almost unmistakable tones, the need for an evolutionary successor to Flash. Giving rise to the speculation is the fact that while the requirements for its target markets are being filled today, this may not always be the case. The pressure for increasingly faster memory is growing noticeably, due to the rapid technical development of peripherals, and the resulting greater requirements for the speed and capacity of Flash.

The opinion is spreading that Flash will be "just good enough" in the near future, but in the medium term will have to be replaced. At least, that is the industry line. Possible weak points of Flash memory are a natural limitation of scalability (where any further reduction of cell size would no longer pay off); write speeds that are too low; and a limited number of write cycles.

Let's take a look at the state of development of the hottest new technologies - magneto-resistive RAM (MRAM), ovonics unified memory (OUM) and nanocrystals - and make a forecast for the future of memory from now until the end of the decade.

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