New chip could derail flash memory

By Craig Zammit

AUSTIN, USA: Freescale Semiconductor Inc has announced the commercial availability of new type of chip known as MRAM, which combines flash memory’s endurance with a hard drives capacity to retain data when powered down, potentially displacing flash memory as the preferred storage medium for consumer electronic devices.

The new chips technology, also called magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), could revolutionise the $48 billion memory chip industry through its ability to maintain information by relying on magnetic properties as opposed to electric charge.

The new technology could prove pivotal for the move towards smaller forms, which is becoming increasingly important in the consumer electronics marketplace.

Unlike flash memory, which slowly loses data integrity after repeated use (100,000 cycles or more), MRAM will not degrade over time, making it a more long term memory solution.

Toshiba, NEC and IBM have already expressed their interests in MRAM and have all committed to further research on the technology, with Toshiba recently expanding its semiconductor business in February.

Future applications in consumer electronics could include replacing the RAM found in PCs, which could allow immediate boot-up of CPUs due to the data not having to be reloaded into memory chips.

MRAM could also reduce power consumption for longer battery life and faster start-up times, in devices such as mp3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones.

Freescale Semiconductors Inc was spun off from Motorola in July 2004, and is already producing the 4-megabit MRAM at its Arizona factory.

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