AUSTIN, Texas Freescale Semiconductor Inc. started commercial shipments of its 4-Mbit magneto-resistive random access memories (MRAM) Monday (July 10th), with small-volume sales priced at $25 per chip, said Saied Tehrani, the director of the MRAM program based at Freescale's Chandler, Ariz. facility.
Analysts said Freescale's move into volume MRAM production, after two years of sampling, represents a breakthrough. "Freescale's entry says we are now officially in the era of new memory technology," said Semico Research analyst Bob Merritt. MRAM's entry comes after several decades in which DRAM, SRAM, and flash have dominated the memory industry, with ferroelectric (FeRRAM) memories also gaining a toehold.
The Freescale MRAM products are fast, with read and write times at 35-ns. While both flash and MRAM are non-volatile, Tehrani said reliability tests have shown MRAM to have "unlimited" durability, with none of the wear-out problems which limit the number of write cycles with flash memories.
While skeptics have questioned whether MRAM's cell size can be competitive in the cost-conscious memory market, Tehrani said the 4-Mbit product has a 1.26 square micron cell size in a 0.18-micron process. Freescale will skip the 0.13-micron generation and jump next to the 90-nm node, where the cell size is 0.29 square microns. That compares with about 1 square micron for 90-nm SRAMs, which use a six-transistor structure per bit.
While Freescale may create 16-Mbit DRAMs at some point, Tehrani said the company "has no intention to become a commodity MRAM vendor." Its target is replacing flash and other memory types in microcontrollers, including automotive-use MCUs where reliability and endurance are important.
With MRAM "there is no wear-out mechanism, unlike other non-volatile memories. Wear out is especially bad with flash, and at some level with ferroelectric memories," he said.