Intel, Micron launch “bulk-switching” ReRAM

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By eeNews Europe

At a webcast press conference company executives described the launch as a major development – the introduction of the first new category of memory since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989. The executives said the memory is based on a fundamental discovery that has yielded a non-volatile memory that exhibits a "bulk material property change" at the cross-point of metal access lines. This suggests the property change happens throughout the active material layer addressed at a given cross-point in the memory.

If the memory lives up to its promise of being up to 1000 times faster than NAND flash and 8 to 10 times denser than DRAM – and therefore lower cost – it could bring a major transformation in the electronics industry and to computer architectures for data centers and with possible application in solid-state drives.

Mark Durcan, CEO of Micron, said that a 3D XPoint memory IC of 128Gbits capacity was in production at the wafer fab in Lehi, Utah, belonging to IM Flash Technologies LLC, a joint venture between Intel and Micron formed in 2006. The memory is organized as two planes of 64Gbits with one bit per cell, Durcan said.

Durcan and Rob Crooke, general manager of the non-volatile memory group at Intel, revealed the memories on a 300mm wafer saying that while manufacturing would be done jointly the two companies would take 3D XPoint memories to market in 2016 developing products based on the technology separately.

Few details

The executives gave few technical details about the memory technology and did not disclose the material system or switching mechanism. Intel and Micron did say that the companies had "invented unique material compounds" to create the 3D XPoint memory.

"The switching mechanism is via changes in resistance of the bulk material," was all Intel would add in response to questions sent via email.

The prepared infographics suggest a resistive RAM with an in-built select diode allowing for a dense device structure. This would give it similarities to ReRAMs being developed by Crossbar Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) and other companies but would still leave a potential point of distinction – filamentary behavior.

Crossbar’s technology – along with that of many other companies – is filamentary in nature with one or more filaments being formed, broken and reformed within the crosspoint area to lower and raise the resistance across the cell and denote a 1 or a 0. Micron has been working with Sony on a ReRAM that was based on a copper filament grown within a layer of copper-telluride glass.

But as indicated by Intel’s response 3D XPoint is non-filamentary. And when comparing the 3D Xpoint to other forms of non-volatile memory generally during the press conference Micron’s Durcan said: "This is a fundamentally different switch giving a bulk-switching mechanism."

This might suggest similarities to a non-filamentary, non-volatile memory technology based on the metal-insulator Mott transition in nickel oxide being researched by Carlos Paz de Araujo, a professor at the University of Colorado and the founder and CEO of Symetrix Corp. (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Professor Araujo has labelled his memory Correlated Electron RAM, or CeRAM to differentiate it from filamentary cross-point memories (see Academic Tips Non-Filamentary ReRAM).

Micron’s Durcan said: "We are not the only companies thinking of bringing resistive elements to memory, but ours is unique." Intel’s Crooke said the memory has the three attributes of: non-volatility, density and speed and that the memory scales in both the x-y plane and the z direction.

The executives declined to put a figure on the cost of developing 3D XPoint saying it was the result of a decade of collaboration between Intel and Micron. "The technology has been underdevelopment since 2012, hundreds of engineers have been involved," Crooke added.

When asked if the companies would share the technology with other manufacturers both Durcan and Crooke said that Intel and Micron would be investing in manufacturing 3D XPoint at the jointly-owned wafer fab in Utah and that it would be possible to expand manufacturing of the technology into other fabs within the Intel and Micron network of fabs as necessary. "There’s no need to collaborate with other companies," said Crooke.

Intel did confirm that 3D XPoint manufacturing is compatible with back-end-of-line (BEOL) processing, which opens up the possibility of deploying 3D Xpoint memory on top of a plane of logic and as an embedded non-volatile memory option. But in email correspondence emphasized that the launch discussion is only about the technology as the basis of a discrete stand-alone memory.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

Academic Tips Non-Filamentary ReRAM

CeRAM Memory Gets ARM’s Attention

ReRAM Startup Bets on Silver

Rambus ReRAM Attracts First Commercial Customer


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