Flash replacement could be a decade away

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Manufacturers of flash memory expect to run out of steam in a few years in their relentless drive to reduce both size and cost, so they are attempting to develop new non-volatile memories.

STMicroelectronics (ST) thinks it might have the next flash generation: it's called Phase-Change Memory (PCM).

Described publicly for the first time this week, ST said the PCM technology was partially developed by Ovonyx. While the Ovonyx technology was already used in re-writable CDs, the two firms figured it could be adapted for a flash replacement. Ovonyx, a California firm, and ST established a PCM development effort near Milan, where ST has an R&D facility.

'ST already [envisions] the new Phase-Change Memory technology being used in medium-density, standalone memories and embedded applications,' ST stated.

'By demonstrating the feasibility of the key features that make the PCM cell most attractive, ST has increased its confidence in the long-term scalability of the technology.'

The technology involves utilising some so-called 'chalcogenide' materials -- a mix of three elements dominated by tellurium -- and heating them.

ST described its PCM work in two scientific papers presented this week at the VLSI Technology and Circuits Symposia, in Honolulu. ST indicated it would take a decade to develop PCM technology to the point at which it's ready for general manufacturing.

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