PORTLAND, Ore.—A single "universal" memory technology that combines the speed of DRAM with the non-volatility and density of flash memory was recently invented at North Carolina State University, according to researchers.
The new memory technology, which uses a double floating-gate field-effect-transistor (FET), should enable computers to power down memories not currently being accessed, drastically cutting the energy consumed by computers of all types, from mobile and desktop computers to server farms and data centers, the researchers say.
"Memories made using our new double floating-gate structure should be about as fast as DRAM—and will need to be refreshed as often—but their densities will be about the same as flash," said EE professor Paul Franzon at NC State.
The double floating-gates use direct tunneling when storing charge to represent bits—instead of hot electron injection like flash—thus enabling operation at lower voltages. The first floating-gate in the stack is leaky, thus requiring refreshing about as often as DRAM (16 milliseconds). But by increasing the voltage its data value can be transferred to the second floating-gate, which acts more like a traditional flash memory, offering long-term nonvolatile storage.
In operation, computers using the double floating-gate FETs for their main memory can operate normally until they become idle, at which time their data values can be transferred to the second gate in order to power down the memory chip. Then when the stored values need to be accessed again by the computer, the second gate quickly transfers their stored charge back to the first gate and normal operations can resume.
"We believe our new memory device will enable power-proportional computing, by allowing memory to be turned off during periods of low use without affecting performance," said Franzon.
So far the researchers have only built the gate structures in their new FET design and are currently performing cycling testing to make sure that memories stored and retrieved from the floating gates do not cause fatigue that could eventually wear out the devices. Flash, for instance, uses voltages so high during hot-carrier injection that devices can only survive about 10,000 read/write cycles. Double floating-gate FETs use lower voltages, but only cycling testing can determine whether the devices experience excessive fatigue.
If the test devices pass cycle testing, then the researchers' next step will be to fabricate real semiconductor memories out of them—a task the researchers hope to perform by next year. Also working on the project was Neil Spigna, a research assistant professor at NC State and doctoral candidates Daniel Schinke and Mihir Shiveshwarkar. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.
Thanks for pointing out this detail. If this has random access as in DRAM, then it could be wired like a NOR. Although normally NOR uses hot carrier injection for programming, it still has to tunnel (Fowler-Nordheim) to erase. I still call this an injection process, with issues such as SILC. So that is why Flash has the lowest reliability of all memories.
R_Colin_Johnson: Phase-change memory (PRAM) is not "here." Read my comments at the URL you mentioned! Your sister company, UBM Techinsights, was simply the victim of an elaborate scam. The phone unit they tested was a fake, non-commercial unit. Samsung did indeed have PRAM in the original specs for that phone line, but later abandoned PRAM due to power-consumption issues. Thus, it appears, the only cell phone with PRAM in the world was destroyed by UBM Techinsights. You don't believe me? Buy a Samsung GT-E2550 or GT-E2550L Monte Slider and see what's inside. I did. It has NOR and absolutely no PRAM. No commercial product on the market, other than a couple of development boards, uses PRAM or PCM. Please do not perpetuate the Techno-Ponzi!
The article is somewhat misleading in that it says that Flash uses hot electron injection.
NOR flash uses that, but NAND flash uses tunneling, like this memory does. The tunneling gives NAND flash more rewrite cycles than NOR flash as a result, but there’s still a finite lifetime for the NAND flash, ranging from 10,000 cycles (for MLC devices) upwards of 1,000,000 cycles (for the best SLC devices).
In short, I don’t really see the benefit of this technology outside of a few niche applications. In general, it should be possible just to put a DRAM die and a NAND flash on a single package and just write over the DRAM’s contents to the NAND flash when suspending.
On the contrary, phase-change memory (PRAM) is here, although its just substituting for NOR flash so far. Our sister UBM Techinsights reported the world's first use of PRAM was last year:
It still looks to me you will combine the DRAM leakage of first gate with the injection issues of the second NV gate. Whereas the benefits are the same as offered by alternative memories without this issue combination.
Interesting concept though we should wait and see till the final cycling results are actually announced. If it can handle what both Flash and DRAM can do then probably we can work with a single unified memory in the future.
@new2coding. If i understand correctly that was the first thing came in my mind too (I am an industrial PhD student and frequently argue with academic collegues on EEtimes vs IEEtimes :)).
I wonder one day academia learn something from EEtimes/UBM and create perhaps UAM (United Academics Media)or perhaps UBM aciquire IEEE/ACM!:)
You may be right, only time will tell, but the NSF thinks that they at least have a shot of pulling it off. Currently the authors are characterizing the endurance of the architecture, and if it gets over that hurdle, they will address the other doubts you have in mind. Stay tuned for the results, probably in by 2012.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.