LONDON – Memory IC maker SK Hynix Inc. has agreed to develop non-volatile phase-change memory technology and products with IBM. SK Hynix will manufacture the memories, which will offer multi-level cell capability and be aimed at storage for servers.
SK Hynix is planning to produce phase-change random access memories (PCRAMs) for use in power-efficient servers, so called storage class memories (SCMs). The company is now covering three bets on future memory technology with agreements in place with Toshiba on magnetic RAM, with Hewlett-Packard Co. on resistive RAM (ReRAM), and with IBM on PCRAM.
SK Hynix did not provide a timetable for the introduction of commercial products based on phase-change memory (PCM) technology nor provide an indication of what memory capacity would be targeted or what minimum geometry manufacturing process would be used to produce the memories.
The combination of IBM's expertise in such disciplines as MLC and SK Hynix's manufacturing capabilities will help accelerate the commercialization of PCRAM technology, SK Hynix said.
Phase-change memory, based on the resistance change that comes with the transition of chalcogenide alloys from an amorphous to crystalline phase, has been under research for many decades. It has long held the promise that it could offer superior cycling endurance to NAND flash memory and offer superior performance, but so far the rapid scaling of NAND has prevented any impact on the chip market.
Hynix has done some research into phase-change memory prototyping a 40-nm 1-Gbit PCRAM component, but is better known for having teamed up with Hewlett-Packard Co. with plans to introduce a metal-oxide based "memristor" variable resistance memory in 2013. IBM has its own research into PCM including such developments as multilevel cell (MLC) operation and has expressed long-term interest in the technology (see CTO confirms IBM's PCM expectations).
One thing to note is that while Hynix's have numerous patents related to phase change memory they have only one ReRAM/memristor patent (for an application in RFID). Thus all else being equal there is more economic incentive for Hynix to develop phase change memory. Below is a link to comparative US patent data for companies invested in memory resistors vs. phase change memory.
The way SK Hynix approaches these memories, by sharing risk with big names like Toshiba for STT-MRAM, HP for memristor and IBM for phase change memory, indicates they are not really into using these in the near future. So it's funny to watch the big-name partner get all excited and make optimistic projections.