Magnetic Memory Chips Hit the Market

Freescale says its new MRAM chips are last longer and are more powerful than flash memory.

The memory-chip industry moved one step further from its dependence on power with Freescale Semiconductors new memory chip, released on Monday. The MR2A16A is the first Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) device to hit the market.

Magnetic power seeks to solve the problem of losing data once the power is turned off in devices such as digital cameras, mobile phones, and printers. The chip relies on a technology called magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ). Prior to this product, memory chips relied on electric charge or current flows. Flash memory, which is electric, can keep data after power goes out but MRAM is faster and it will last longer than a flash chip.

"The key difference between MRAM and flash is that MRAM is approximately six orders of magnitude faster in programming than flash," said Saied Tehrani, director of MRAM technology with Freescale. "And flash has a limitation on how many times you can rewrite it. With MRAM, you can do an unlimited number of rewriting, which is something you cannot do with flash."

Magnetic technology, or MTJ, works just like the magnets kids play with by flipping around the north and south poles. Two ferromagnetic plates are separated by a thin insulating layer. One plate has a permanent north or south charge and the other changes accordingly to store data. The memory chip is a grid of these plates.

"Magnetic memory exists in hard drives already," Tehrani said. "But this is the first time that we are combining the magnetic technology with a semiconductor to make new memory."

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