SEVILLE, Spain – The 'memristor' two-terminal non-volatile memory technology, in development at Hewlett Packard Co. since 2008, is on track to be in the market and taking share from flash memory within 18 months, according to Stan Williams, senior fellow at HP Labs.
"We have a lot of big plans for it and we're working with Hynix Semiconductor to launch a replacement for flash in the summer of 2013 and also to address the solid-state drive market," Williams told the audience of the International Electronics Forum, being held here.
A spokesperson for HP added that there is no definitive memristor product roadmap as yet, but confirmed that "HP has a goal to see memristor products by the end of 2013."
Williams said that the memristor metrics being achieved, in terms of energy to change a bit, read, write time, retention and endurance, were so compelling that flash replacement was effectively a done deal. "So in 2014/2015 we'll be going after DRAM and after that the SRAM market," Williams said indicating his confidence that the memristor would quickly become a universal memory.
Williams declined to discuss in detail the process technology, memory capacity or memory-effect material that Hewlett Packard and Hynix are working with. "We're running hundreds of wafers through a Hynix full-size fab. We're very happy with it." But Williams did disclose that the first commercial memory would be a multi-layer device.
When challenged over the cost of the technology, which would be the barrier to competing against the high-volume flash memory market, Williams said: "On a price per bit basis we could be an order of magnitude lower cost once you get the NRE [non-recurring expense] out of the way."
The memristor, named after the combination of memory and resistor, was originally a theoretical two-terminal device for which the electrical behavior was derived by Leon Chua in 1971. However, in 2008 researchers from HP published a paper in Nature that tied the hysterical I-V characteristics of two-terminal titanium oxide devices to the memristor prediction of Chua. "What we found is that moving a few atoms a fraction of a nanometer can change the resistance by three orders of magnitude," said Williams. "In fact many nanodevices have inherent memresistive behavior," he said.
HP has amassed some 500 patents around the memristor over the last three years. He also acknowledged that phase-change memory (PCM), Resistive RAM (RRAM) and other two-terminal memory devices are all memristor-type devices. Williams acknowledged that many other companies are working on metal-oxide resistive RAMs. He said that Samsung now has a bigger research team working on the technology than does HP.
Williams touted the cross-point nature of the memristor memory switch or resistive RAM device as a memory capacity advantage over flash memory. "Whatever the best in flash memory is, we'll be able to double that."
There was a flurry of news abut memristors maybe 6-9 months ago, then, for the last few months, now news at all. Then a few days ago, there was news from Unity Semiconductor about their memristor device. Now, a few days later, this news from HP/Hynix. I hope it's all true, but it's hard to know. What I don't understand is that Hynix and Toshiba (Samsung?) recently stated http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4217803/Hynix-Toshiba-MRAM that STT-MRAM was the future and didn't even mention memristors. What's going on here?
A little perspective to early semiconductor memory history provides that there needs to be a need from a customer for a new technology. Is there a compelling one for the memristor?
From TI's early days chronicles: "In the early 1970s, a customer approached TI to develop a 1-K MOS memory, but the company elected not to pursue the contract because of insufficient design resources. Memory activities began in earnest when TI second-sourced Intel's 1K-DRAM. Later, TI began a conversion from metal gate to silicon gate designs. In 1972, a decision had to be made to predict the next generation of DRAM, either 2K or 4K. TI started a 4K program, which turned out to be the right choice. The 4-K DRAM became a significant product in the industry.
By 1974, TI had 4K DRAMs (both 18- and 22-pin versions) available."
Lee Harrison: Really high-end servers use SRAM and capacitors (and/or batteries). The basic physics was sound for PCM/PRAM as well, initially, until it turned out that the basic physics was actually quite misunderstood and wrong. HP and Hynix have neither the resources nor the management attention to produce a new chip within 18 months. Period. Samsung, who actually may have a better patent portfolio for the memristor, have learned their lesson after the PRAM fiasco. IBM is finished - just look at their millipede storage (those are the same people who are "working" on PCM/PRAM after that disaster).
So, no IBM is not rolling out any memristor cache.
"However, in 2008 researchers from HP published a paper in Nature that tied the hysterical I-V characteristics of two-terminal titanium oxide devices to the memristor prediction of Chua."
It's hysterical, all right.
Kudos to HP Labs and Stan for getting to a point where a product is on the--albeit distant--horizon. Clearly there are many pitfalls between now and 2013 they will have to avoid, but this is (literally) promising.
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