IBM Cites 'Breakthrough' in Phase-Change Memory Development

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-06-30 Print this article Print

IBM has produced 90-nanometer-size processors that can store multiple bits of data per cell over time without the data becoming corrupted. This is a problem that has been nagging PCM development for 10 years.

Every so often, the IT world gets news of a "breakthrough" in new storage media research, and this week it was IBM's turn to announce one in relation to a possible long-term replacement for NAND flash solid-state disks.

Big Blue on June 30 revealed that its Zurich-based PCM (phase-change memory) research unit has produced 90-nanometer-size chips that can store multiple bits of data per cell over time without the data becoming corrupted. This is a problem that has been nagging development since IBM started this project nearly 10 years ago.

Previously, each PCM cell was able to hold a single data bit, and even those became lost or corrupt at unpredictable times. IBM said this latest development can lead to solid-state chips that can store as much data as NAND flash disks (which now are up to 1TB in capacity) but feature about 100 times the data movement speed, to go with a much longer life span.

NAND flash is inherently slowed down by so-called erase-write cycle limitations. This is because NAND flash requires that data first be marked for deletion before new data is written to the disk, which slows the process considerably. PCM does not require erase-write cycles.

Thus, the extra erase-write activity causes NAND flash performance to degrade faster and, over time, wear out the disk. Typically, NAND flash disk life spans range from 5,000 to 10,000 write cycles in consumer disks and up to 100,000 cycles in enterprise-class disks.

In contrast, PCM can handle up to an estimated 5 million write cycles, IBM and Intel (through its PCM-dedicated Numonyx arm) both contend.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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