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SK Hynix and IBM this week signed an agreement under which the former licenses phase change random access memory (PCRAM) technology from the latter. Under the terms of the new agreement, IBM and SK Hynix will jointly develop PCRAM products that will be manufactured and marketed by SK Hynix.

"Phase-change memory technology has the potential to enable a new class of low-cost, high-performance memory technologies for consumer devices, cloud computing, data storage and other enterprise applications. Working with SK Hynix will speed the development and production of PCRAM devices based on our breakthrough multi-bit, phase-change memory technology," said T.C. Chen, IBM fellow and vice president of science & technology for IBM Research.

PCRAM is a type of non-volatile random-access memory that exploits the property of resistance in crystalline and amorphous states to store data. The state of resistance can remain intact even in a condition with no power. PCRAM’s performance is expected to surpass that of today’s NAND flash by 100 fold while enhancing durability by 1000 fold, and PCRAM will operate with low power like DRAM. With relatively simpler structure compared to other memory products, PCRAM promises drive the production cost down considerably. Last June, IBM researchers demonstrated a reliable multi-bit, phase-change memory technology implementation.


Cross-section of two PRAM memory cells, with the cut parallel to the bit line. One cell is in crystalline state, the other amorphous. Image by Wikipedia.

PCRAM may be able to reshape the landscape of the memory industry by introducing storage-class memory (SCM), a promising next generation memory class, designed to boost performance and reduce power consumption for enterprise servers. PCRAM is projected bridge a gap between the current DRAM and SSD as it takes the role of a buffer memory.

Since the inception of PCRAM development in 2007, Hynix Semiconductor has successfully developed 40nm-class 1Gb PCRAM along the way. With today’s agreement, SK Hynix and IBM will collaborate on developing PCRAM products that will be manufactured by SK Hynix. Hynix’s advanced manufacturing process optimization and cost competitiveness should help to accelerate the commercialization of PCRAM technology.

“Alongside STT-MRAM and ReRAM currently under joint development with Toshiba and HP respectively, PCRAM will enrich our portfolio of the next generation memory technologies. SK Hynix will continue to endeavor to seek possible partnerships that will elevate our competence in the ever evolving semiconductor industry.” said Hyun Jong Song, senior vice president and the head of future strategy division at SK Hynix.

According to a market researcher Gartner, the memory opportunity for servers, which includes DRAM and SSD, will expand from $8 billion in 2012 to $16 billion in 2016, and the SCM opportunity, driven by PCRAM demands from leading server makers, will be worth $1.4 billion and continue to grow for years.

Tags: SK Hynix, Hynix, IBM, PCRAM

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