Elpida has licensed a technology that applies the same technique used in rewriteable optical discs to non-volatile memory chips.
Developed by Ovonyx, the system, dubbed Ovonic Universal Memory (OUM), uses a thin film of chalcogenide alloy, a material similar to the substance used in DVD- and CD-RW discs. In the optical world, laser light is used to adjust the phase of the material - crystalline or amorphous - at each data-storing spot to encode the binary 1s and 0s that make up digital data. Instead of light, the Ovonyx system achieves the same result with electrical signals controlled by transistors.
According to Ovonyx, chips built using its technology are cheaper to make than Flash memory, thanks to their simple structure and less complex fabrication process. Cells can also be packed more densely, making for higher capacity chips.
Flash's key weakness, the limited number of read-write cycles it provides, is also not an issue with OUM, which has a claimed life of more than ten trillion writes. It also provides fully random access to data. And OUM is faster than Flash, with a performance "similar" to DRAM, Ovonyx says.
Elpida seems convinced. So are Intel and STMicro, among others, which have also licensed OUM. The technology may work at the test cell stage, but it needs much more work to commercialise it; and that's what Elpida, for one, will be doing.
"Elpida plans to utilize Ovonyx's phase-change technology to further explore the development of new DRAM features that will provide the high performance and low current consumption required for next-generation mobile applications," Yukio Sakamoto, the company's president and CEO, said in a statement. ®