Memory Chips 1,000 Times Faster

Memory Chips 1,000 Times Faster

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Fast, energy efficient memory storage is a vital component of the technology we rely on every day. Using new semiconductor materials, researchers are making permanent storage up to a thousand times faster.

[Image source: Stanford – Tricia Seibold]

There are two general types of silicon memory chips in use today, known as volatile and nonvolatile. The RAM in your computer is an example of volatile memory and is generally the faster of the two. Nonvolatile memory ensures data storage after devices are powered down. New research in phase-change memory is findings ways to integrate the benefits of both.

Team leader, Associate Professor Aaron Lindenberg said:

“This work is fundamental but promising. A thousandfold increase in speed coupled with lower energy use suggests a path toward future memory technologies that could far outperform anything previously demonstrated.”

Seeking smaller, more efficient alternatives to the current silicon memory chip, researchers have identified materials with unique properties, capable of existing in different atomic structures. These phase-change materials allow for external manipulation of their electronic states, changing phase from one to zero and back again.

With permanent storage and precise control, these materials proved their worth. “Nobody had ever been able to investigate these processes on such fast time-scales before,” said Lindenberg.

[Image source: Stanford – Tricia Seibold]

The speeds we’re talking about are extraordinary. Recording the time between excitation and switching between states, the team found the material responded in under a picosecond; that’s one trillionth of a second. Stanford illustrates this elegantly by equating it to the time taken for light, traveling at 300,000 kilometers per second, to pass through two pieces of paper. This performance blitzes the current speeds of silicon memory chip technology.

Paired with a smaller size and lower energy consumption than current storage solutions, the use of phase-change material is exciting to researchers. “A new technology which demonstrates a thousandfold advantage over incumbent technologies is compelling,” said Lindenberg. “I think we’ve shown that phase change deserves further attention.”