Jan 19, 2012

What are the chances that MRAM will replace DRAM?

MRAM has just started popping up on the radar. MRAM (magnetoresistive random access memory) is fast and non-volitile, and is already used in Airbus flight control computers and in race cars The downside is that it is expensive, so few applications make sense at this point, except those where non-volatility is of paramount importance. What are the chances that it will become the next "big thing" in memory technology?

PC World has an interesting article that looks at the possibility of MRAM replacing DRAM.

Could MRAM Ultimately Replace DRAM?

"MRAM is a viable replacement for some networking and storage products in which density isn't a primary concern, said Mike Howard, senior principal analyst at IHS iSuppli. For example, MRAM is being used as an alternative to non-volatile SRAM in Dell's products.

MRAM is currently shipping in small volumes and will likely gain acceptance only after DRAM hits a wall, Howard said. A lot of money is being spent in the development of DRAM, which also has a price advantage.

MRAM has promise as a memory technology as it can scale down more effectively than DRAM and NAND flash, said Jim Handy, analyst at Objective Analysis. DRAM, and to a great extent NAND flash, has a scaling limit because as the chip geometry decreases, there's less room, which means fewer electrons in an area, Handy said."

I think chances are pretty good if the density of MRAM can match the density of other memory systems, and thus lower cost to a competitive level. There is a significant amount of research into MRAM, and that has been true for a number of years.  Even DARPA has been pushing R&D of MRAM, so clearly some very intelligent and forward thinking people thing that MRAM has tremendous potential.  I don't know all that much about MRAM, but the manner of storage is really interesting.  Instead of using electrical charges like DRAM, it stores  data bits using magnetic charges.  The benefits of this storage method are numerous.  As one would expect, it uses much less power.  It also adds stability, allowing RAM to act more like a HDD in that one the data is stored, it remains even if power is lost.  This could allow machines to start immediately, eliminating the need for software to boot up.  I think there is actually a chance that MRAM could become "universal memory", but adoption of new technology is never a certainty. 

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