LONDON – Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Toshiba Corp. have agreed to develop spin-transfer torque magnetoresistance RAMs together with both saying that the technology is an important next-generation non-volatile memory.
Once the technology development is completed the companies plan to form a joint venture to produce STT-MRAMs. As part of the strategic collaboration Hynix and Toshiba have extended their patent cross licensing.
MRAM is non-volatile memory, it is also power efficient and operates at ultra-high speed, the companies said in a joint statement. The initial applications for the technology are expected to be in mobile applications where power efficiency is highly valued.
The companies did not disclose what memory capacities they intend to manufacture first or a timetable for when they expect to be in commercial manufacturing.
Many established semiconductor companies have made MRAMs and it has also been the stimulus for spin-offs and startups including Everspin Technologies Inc. Grandis Inc. and Crocus Technology Inc. However, the commitment by two of the world's largest manufacturers of NAND flash and DRAM memory to MRAM marks a significant change. The highest capacity MRAMs on the the market are at about 16-Mbit which is considerably behind the 64-Gbit achieved with NAND flash memory using 20-nm class manufacturing processes. However, many developers are seeing MRAM as replacement for DRAM with the benefits of superior scaling and non-volatility.
Toshiba has reportedly said that a recently developed perpendicular magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) device can be the basic element of gigabit SST-MRAMs that it would expect to be commercial within three or four years. Hynix and Toshiba said they are merging the necessary resources and expertise from the two companies to minimize risk and to accelerate the pace of MRAM commercialization.
"MRAM is a rare gem full of exciting properties, like ultra high-speed, low power consumption, and high capacity, and it will play the role of key factor in driving advances in memories. It will also be a perfect fit for growing consumer demand in more sophisticated smart phones. MRAM is our next growth platform," said Oh Chul Kwon, CEO of Hynix, in a statement.
"We believe that MRAM has huge potential as highly scalable non-volatile RAM," said Kiyoshi Kobayashi, corporate senior vice president of Toshiba Corp. and president and CEO of Toshiba's semiconductor and storage products subsidiary. "We will strongly promote initiatives in integration of storage solutions including MRAM, NAND, and HDD. The MRAM joint development program with Hynix is one of the key steps to support our efforts."
Since Toshiba doesn't make DRAM (or want to play in that market either) and it is highly unlikely for MRAM to replace NAND or HDD, I wonder if Toshiba (and Hynix) are striving to create a new application for MRAM. It seems hard to do without a customer, or when most customers are accustomed to just Flash and DRAM.
Will perpendicular MJT have better scaling characteristics than other approaches? Can it be implemented with multiple layers and multiple bits per cell? These are the types of things I'd be interested in reading about.
Technology, materials, process knowledge improves over time and a revival of MRAM technology (more than current suppliers) with spin-transfer torque magneto-resistance would be welcomed in the market. But let's give the DRAM and Flash technology a big applause since these two technologies have carried the ball for many years.