ARM, Applied, seek to replace SRAM with MRAM

ARM, Applied, seek to replace SRAM with MRAM

Technology News |
By Peter Clarke

Applied Ventures LLC is the venture capital arm of chipmaking equipment vendor Applied Materials Inc. Spin Transfer Technologies was established in 2007 and has been wholly-owned by incubator company Allied Minds.

Applied, ARM and Spin Memory are looking to go beyond the use of embedded MRAM as on-chip non-volatile cache memory to replace flash, which would replicate what has been done by Globalfoundries Inc. and Intel Corp. (see IEDM: Intel embeds MRAM in FinFET process).

Rather the trio is looking for further improvements in embedded MRAM to allow it to replace SRAM in registers, flip-flops, scratch-pad memories very close to and within the logic circuits. With the instant retention of state implied by this, such non-volatility could have a major impact on how microprocessors and microcontrollers could be designed to operate. MRAM already has the advantage of non-volatility and density over SRAM memory cells, which typically use six transistors for implementation, but it needs to demonstrate exceptional endurance cycling to be applicable in logic.

ARM Fellow Greg Yeric told eeNews Europe recently that spin-orbit torque MRAM technology might achieve the appropriate speed-endurance trade-offs to allow MRAM introduction into core logic, which could trigger a revolution in microprocessor and microcontroller architectures (see MRAM revolution could trigger new ARM architecture).

The funding and commercial agreements between the three companies is part of a drive to establish MRAM as a mainstream alternative to both embedded SRAM and a range of non-volatile memories, Spin Memory said in a statement.

The funding comprised $29.0 million raised from Applied, ARM and existing investors and $23.0 million from the exercise of convertible securities subscribed for in earlier round by Allied Minds, Woodford Investment Management and Invesco Asset Management. As part of the deal ARM will licensing of Spin Memory’s Endurance Engine design IP to address static random-access memory (SRAM) application in SoCs.

Next: Start of an ecosystem?

The funding and commercial agreements represent a new model of collaboration that Spin Memory is driving to establish MRAM as a mainstream alternative to embedded SRAM and a range of other non-volatile memories.

The agreements make use of innovations from Applied Materials in physical vapor deposition and etch process technology and Spin Memory’s  Processional Spin Current (PSC) spin polarizer technology and perpendicular magnetic tunnel junction technology (pMTJ) from both companies.

The PSC structure increases the spin-torque efficiency of any MRAM device by between 40 and 70 percent higher data retention while consuming less power. And because PSC requires no additional materials or tools than those used in the production of STT-MRAM the PSC structure adds almost no complexity, Spin Memory said.

The technology is able to address both non-volatile (flash-like) and SRAM-replacement applications and should become commercially available in 2019.

“Through our collaboration with Applied Materials, we will bring the next generation of STT-MRAM to market and address this growing need for alternative memory solutions,” said Spin Memory CEO Tom Sparkman, in a statement.

Next: Endurance Engine

On top of the basic PSC pMTJ Spin Memory has developed the Endurance Engine – a combination of circuits and design architectures that provide up to six orders of magnitude improvement in endurance while enabling SRAM-like read and write speeds by utilizing pMTJ’s stochastic behaviour. While MRAM for cache memory is usually rated at 10^8 cycles of endurance, the Endurance Engine is rated at 10^14 cycles of endurance, which is sufficient for nearly all SRAM and DRAM applications. And since the Endurance Engine is wholly implemented using digital circuitry, it can be fabricated in any logic or memory digital process and is designed to work with any pMTJ.

ARM will license the Endurance Engine from Spin Memory and use it to develop a line of embedded MRAM design IP. This MRAM design IP will address static random-access memory (SRAM) application in SoCs, with denser and lower power solutions than typically achieved with the current 6T SRAM cell-based IP.

“Technologies like AI, 5G, ADAS and IoT demand more power and area-efficient embedded memory than the existing SRAM and eFlash solutions. These requirements are leading the industry to rethink the way chips are developed – including their memory IP content,” said Gus Yeung, general manager of the ARM Physical Design Group. “ARM’s work with Spin Memory aims to address a key design challenge and enable broader adoption of MRAM design in SoCs.”

Related links and articles:

White Paper: Using MRAM in place of SRAM

News articles:

IEDM: Intel embeds MRAM in FinFET process

MRAM revolution could trigger new ARM architecture

ARM backs embedded MRAM on Samsung’s FDSOI process

Spin Transfer claims MRAM breakthrough

ARM’s turn to non-volatile memory is right move

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