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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.

The best NAND flash, with error correction code, can withstand about 100,000 erase-write cycles. According to Nantero, NRAM can withstand 1012 write cycles and 1015 read cycles -- an almost infinite number.

"Heat and vibration also will not cause errors," Schmergel said.

How NRAM works

Carbon nanotubes are grown from catalyst particles -- most commonly iron.

NRAM is made up of an interlocking fabric matrix of carbon nanotubes that can either be touching or slightly separated. Each NRAM "cell" or transistor is made up the network of the carbon nanotubes that exist between two metal electrodes. The memory acts the same way as other resistive non-volatile RAM technologies.

Carbon nanotubes that are not in contact with each other are in the high resistance state that represents the "off" or "0" state. When the carbon nanotube contact each other, they take on the low-resistance state of "on" or "1."

Over the past few months, Nantero has hired more than a dozen chip design engineers who are working to create high density circuits, including three dimensional or stacked designs for increased capacity.

"If you're taking a gum stick, then your talking about many gigabytes of capacity -- terabytes in the future," Schmergel said.

Nantero doesn't plan on producing its own NRAM drives, which will initially be marketed for purposes similar to solid-state drive (SSD) gum sticks or internal memory boards. But it will license its intellectual property to companies to develop their own product. Nantero's engineers are still in the process of creating chip designs for the memory wafers.

Because of its resilience to heat, vibration and pressure, Nantero's carbon nanotube memory has caught the eye of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and Schlumberger Ltd., the world's largest gas and oil exploration and drilling company; both companies are customers of Nantero.

Nantero declined to name its other customers.

"Clearly a company like [Schlumberger] would have need of memory that could perform in environments with very high heat down in an oil well," Schmerge said.

Founded in 2001, Nantero has to date generated $78.1 million in five rounds of funding, including a series E round for $31.5 million that it just closed. The company also announced that the former vice president of Intel's Flash Memory Group, Stefan Lai, has joined the company as a technical advisor. Lai co-invented the EPROM (erasable programmable read only memory) flash memory cell and led the Intel's phase change memory (PCM) development team.

"Nantero's NRAM has unique attributes that make it the most promising candidate to be the almost ideal memory: the nonvolatility of Flash, and the speed and functionality of DRAM with lower cost," Lai said.

Nantaro also announced that Yaw Wen Hu, a former executive vice president at Inotera Memories, has also come on board as a technical advisor. Inotera, a Taiwan-based partner of Micron, supplies nearly 10% of the world's 300mm DRAM silicon wafers at its two fabrication facilities.


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