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Fab plants are now making superfast carbon nanotube memory

Lucas Mearian | June 3, 2015
NRAM has an almost infinite number of write cycles, and is thousands of times faster than flash.

NRAM carbon nanotube memory challenges NAND flash
A depiction of what an NRAM chip would look like. Credit: Nantero

A new type of non-volatile memory known as Nano-RAM (NRAM) -- it's based on carbon nanotube and sports DRAM speed -- is now being produced in seven fabrication plants in various parts of the world.

According to Nantero, the company that invented NRAM, it also has more than a dozen corporate customers lined up to begin experimenting with the memory once it begins rolling off production lines.

"So those fabs have been and are indeed producing large numbers of wafers and chips," said Greg Schmergel, CEO of Nantero. "They are sample chips/test chips in preparation for mass production, which requires the product designs to be completed."

Schmergel said it will likely take a couple more years before NRAM drives begin rolling off production lines.

"This is one of very few technologies that's moved beyond the research lab into high-volume manufacturing CMOS facilities," Greg Wong, principal analyst at Forward Insights, said in a statement. "NRAM's unique combination of high speed and high endurance has the potential to enable innovative products in a host of consumer and enterprise applications."

NRAM has the potential to create memory that is vastly more dense that NAND flash, which is used to make thumb drives and solid-state drives today. The densest NAND flash process today is near 15 nanometers. NRAM can reach densities of below 5 nanometers, according to Schmergel.

Over the past two years, Nantero has been able to reduce NRAM production costs 10-fold, making it compatible with complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS), the standard used for making microprocessors and DRAM.

One big advantage NRAM has over traditional NAND flash is its resistance to heat. It can withstand up to 300 degrees Celsius. Nantero claims its memory can last thousands of years at 85 degrees Celcius and has been tested at 300 degrees Celsius for 10 years. Not one bit of data was lost.

Anpther advantage is that NRAM is being built using the DDR4 specification interface, so it could sport up to 3.2 billion data transfers per second or 2,400 Mbps -- more than twice as fast as NAND flash. Natively, however, the NRAM's read/write capability is thousands of times faster than NAND flash, Schmergel said; the bottleneck is the computer BUS interface.

"Nanotube switch [states] in picoseconds -- going off to on and on to off," Schmergal said. A picosecond is one trillionth of a second.

Carbon nanotubes are strong -- very strong. In fact, they're 50 times stronger than steel, and they're only 1/50,000th the size a human hair. Because of carbon nanotubes' strength, NRAM has far greater write endurance compared to NAND flash.


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