American chip maker Freescale Semiconductor has today announced the development of a magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM) chip which can maintain data using magnetic properties and not the traditional electrical charge methodology.
Think of it in terms of storing data more like a hard drive, albeit a very small one indeed, and you are on the right conceptual tracks. Unlike flash memory, MRAM does not degrade over time, does not need any power in order to store the data and is lightning quick when it comes to read/write speeds. Think in terms of nanoseconds in fact!
Each MRAM chip is comprised of memory cells, hundreds of thousands of them, containing a magnetic electrode with a fixed magnetic field and another that can change polarization. The magnetic orientation of electrons being used to represent bits.
Like much of the innovation we see in technology today, this is not actually something new, as people (including IBM) have been experimenting with similar memory modules for many years. However, it is important because Freescale Semiconductor is the first to overcome the problem of producing it in any volume. Indeed, the only reason it has kept quiet about the breakthrough was to enable it to build the kind of inventory that would silence the critics and back up the claims. Production actually started at the Arizona factory over two months ago!
Will Strauss, an analyst with research company Forward Concepts has gone so far as to describe it as being “the most significant memory introduction in this decade." Considering the pace of mobile device technology, and the problems inherent with flash memory power-down data loss, he could well be right.
It is the mobile market that holds the key for such memory advances, and no coincidence that Freescale Semiconductor is a spin-off from Motorola. Ultimately, it may reduce the cost, power consumption and form factor of mobile phones, MP3 players, PDAs and even notebook PCs.
The only downside at the moment, when compared with flash memory, is capacity: the Freescale Semiconductor MRAM chip is currently maxed out at 4GB.