IBM, Infineon Make Memory Advances

The two companies say they are developing a memory chip that could lead to "instant-on" computers that are smaller and more powerful.

IBM and Infineon Technologies AG have made a big leap forward in the development of a memory chip that could lead to "instant-on" computers that are smaller and more powerful.

At the VSLI Symposia in Kyoto, Japan, on Tuesday, the two companies are presenting a paper in which they say they have been able to integrate magnetic memory components into a high-performance logic base.

The move gives IBM and Infineon a leg up in the development of magnetic random access memory, or MRAM, and could lead to the commercialization of the technology by 2005, said Bill Gallagher, manager of magnetoelectronics at IBM Research.

"It puts the memory closer to the logic base, which means faster access to memory," Gallagher said in an interview with eWEEK.

MRAM is one of a number of initiatives companies are undertaking to design new memory chips. IBM and Infineon are working on one project, while a number of other companies, including Motorola Corp., are working on other MRAM projects.

But there also are other initiatives under way outside of MRAM, including Intel Corp.s work with Ovonics Unified Memory; ferroelectric RAM, or feRAM, by Texas Instruments; and polymer memory, which is being looked at by, among others, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Gallagher said there are a number of advantages to MRAM, the first of which is that it uses magnetic—rather than electronic—charges to store bits of data. This is done by controlling the spin of captured electrons. According to Gallagher, this technology could lead to portable devices that not only can store more data, but also access it faster, all the while using less battery power. It also could be used to consolidate the number of chips needed in a device by combining the storage capacity of DRAM (dynamic RAM), the speed of SRAM (static RAM) and the non-volatility of flash memory.