Freescale Semiconductor plans on Monday to begin selling magnetoresitive random-access memory (MRAM) chips—or chips that use magnetic technology to store data—making it the first to commercialize products based on the technology, which could forever change the memory-chip industry, The Wall Street Journal reports.
MRAMs are among a number of possible chip technologies that could lead to the creation of a “universal memory chip,” or a single chip that can perform tasks that now need three separate types of chips, according to the Journal.
Austin, Texas-based Freescale, which was spun out of Motorola in 2004, is currently aiming its product at only a small portion of the $50 billion-a-year memory-chip space, because its MRAMs don’t have the storage capacity or low price necessary for mass-market usage in such areas as PC and mobile phone data storage, the Journal reports. Furthermore, the company has not made any guarantees that the technology will ever be ready for such applications.
Sumit Sadana, Freescale senior vice president of strategy and business development, told the Journal, “It is too early in the evolution of the technology to even claim that such a feat is feasible.”
The most commonly used memory chips today are dynamic random-access (DRAM) chips, which are relatively low priced and can hold large amounts of data, but can’t retain information once an electrical charge is cut off, according to the Journal. Static random-access memory (SRAM) chips are employed when speed is of the essence; however, they need a constant electrical charge to hold data as well, the Journal reports. Flash memory, which is typically used in mobile phones and digital cameras, has the ability to store data without a constant electrical current, but its slow speed hinders its performance and it can eventually run itself dead, according to the Journal.
MRAMs, which Freescale claims can store data forever, are moderately fast and don’t require a constant electrical current to retain data, the Journal reports. They’re produced by combining silicon and permanently magnetized materials, and they store data by altering magnetic states and managing resistance to the flow of the chips’ electrical current, according to the Journal.
While normal DRAM chips can store about 512 megabits of data and cost roughly $5 apiece, Freescale’s MRAM chips will cost five times as much at $25 and they’ll be able to store only 4 megabits of information, the Journal reports. In addition to the fact that MRAMs don’t need a constant electrical current, they’re much faster than DRAMs, and they’re comparable to some SRAMs, Bob Merritt, a Semico Research analyst, told the Journal.
Sadana said MRAM technology is particularly suited to applications where speed and long-term data storage are key elements, and his firm will continue to develop the technology with these types of uses in mind, though it may commission outside companies for assistance, according to the Journal.
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