MRAM unlikely to become universal memory, report

Chicago (IL) - Magneto-resistive random access memory (MRAM) is one of most advanced technologies that aims to replace Flash and RAM before the end of the decade. The memory may become commercially available as early as late this year, but analysts from NanoMarkets do not believe that the dream of a universal memory technology will become reality.

Concerns about the ability of Flash technology to further scale with business and application needs recently sparked discussions on likely successors. Several memory types are currently developed, such as polymer memory, FeRAM, nanocrystals, nanotube-based RAM or ovonics memory. Most activity originates from developers of MRAM, which already is available in working prototypes and could make its way into some consumer electronics by the end of this year.

A report released by market research firm NanoMarkets however suggests that the potential of MRAM could come closer to "the dream of universal memory than any other commercial product". The technology however was unlikely to be able to make this idea a complete reality, it said.

Key markets for MRAM will be cell phones with first products using the memory by the end of 2005, according to NanoMarkets. Mobile computing devices will follow in 2006 ; portable recording and playback devices with integrated MRAM are expected to appear in 2007. Home computing and consumer electronics as well as enterprise computing and telecommunications applications using MRAM could become available sometime in 2006, the research firm said.

The uncertainty that surrounds the technology is based on the fact MRAM may be much more difficult to commercialize than its backers, currently about 20 semiconductor firms, had expected. Challenges remain an expensive production of the memory and scaling hurdles. The first generation of MRAM is well below the capacity of today’s conventional RAM or Flash chips. MRAM is not expected to catch up with Flash before 2008. As it was the case with previous RAM, analysts also expect legal challenges with patent issues around the technology.

Advantages of MRAM include the speed of SRAM in combination with non-volatile characteristics of Flash. The memory also can withstand shock, magnetic fields and moderate amounts and posts low thermal and power consumption levels. Large firms companies working on MRAM include Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, IBM, Infineon, NEC/Toshiba, Philips, Renesas, Samsung and Sony.

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