The memory chips used to store data for mobile and desktop devices may soon get a significant upgrade in speed, capacity and power efficiency. Three years after its founding, a Silicon Valley startup called Crossbar has broken its silence to unveil its Resistive RAM technology and announce the successful production of a demonstration unit at a fabrication facility.
Resistive RAM, or RRAM, is intended as an alternative to NAND flash storage, which is currently used, among other technologies, to store files on mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers. Crossbar contends it can create storage chips with 20x more write performance, 20x less power consumption and 10x better endurance of present NAND chips, at half the die size.
With RRAM chips, mobile phones in a few years could store up to 1 TB of files — about 250 HD movies — and could last weeks or months between charges, according to the company.
George Minassian, CEO of Crossbar, argues that current non-volatile memory technologies are having trouble scaling to smaller manufacturing processes, making further performance improvements more difficult.
"With our working Crossbar array, we have achieved all the major technical milestones that prove our RRAM technology is easy to manufacture and ready for commercialization," he said in a statement. "It's a watershed moment for the non-volatile memory industry."
NAND makers like Samsung aren't about to surrender. The South Korean electronics giant says its 3D Vertical NAND (V-NAND) chips can be engineered to store up to 1 TB of data, too.
But Crossbar maintains its technology offers a better value. "Our technology has a much better area efficiency and better performance than NAND," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "Crossbar will be able to provide, for the same cost, twice the density of NAND with much better performance."
Crossbar's spokeswoman said the company is in discussion with foundries to manufacture its chips. "Over the next two to three years we'll be rolling out our solution starting with embedded, then standalone Crossbar product and finally move into the IP licensing stage," she said.
How might Crossbar's RRAM chips change the device landscape?
1. More Stuff
One TB is a lot of storage, more than most people presently need. Today's mobile phones, which tend to have somewhere between 16 GB and 64 GB of storage capacity, are fairly roomy, but you can still fill them up with a few thousand MP3 files or a handful of HD movies.
2. Enduring Phones, Tablets
If you use a smartphone frequently, particularly with apps that run in the background, access networks and utilize GPS, you're lucky to get through the day without recharging. Crossbar's RRAM chips supposedly consume 20x less power than current NAND storage. They won't reduce the power used by data transmission, but they should extend the standby life of mobile phones by days or even weeks.
3. Long-Lasting Self-Powered Objects
Crossbar says its chips will allow industrial systems and connected applications like smart meters and thermostats to last for years on battery power. Less need for power means greater viability for environmental energy harvesting, through solar panels or other means. The Internet of Things becomes more appealing with fewer power cables.
4. Wearable Computing
Low power, small size, high storage, high performance: These are the characteristics that make wearable computing possible. All that's missing is water resistance, for the inevitable accidental trip through the washer.
5. A Better Cloud
RRAM can make the storage systems used in commercial data centers faster, more power efficient, more affordable and longer lasting. That should translate into lower prices all around for data center customers.