Intel and Numonyx, the chipmaker's flash memory joint venture with STMicroelectonics, have released details on what the companies hope will be a breakthrough in the development of phase-change memory (PCM). Specifically, the companies developed a new manufacturing process that would allow stacking several memory/selector layers atop each other so memory can be packed more densely in a given volume.

The design paves the way for non-volatile memory chips with larger capacity and greater energy efficiency than current memory types while using a minimum of die space. While such stacking is the goal, yesterday's announcement was of a working 64Mb, single-layer version of the new memory architecture -- multiple layer variants are still on the drawing board.

Phase-change memory stores data in small cells of chalcogenide, a special compound that can change physical states between crystalline and amorphous with the application of heat. The chips can run faster and with greater longevity than conventional transistor-based NAND chips. What's more, phase-change memory is "RAM-like" in that bits can be changed individually, not only in blocks as is required by NAND, yet it is also non-volatile so power isn't required to keep the data in memory.

These attributes could allow the merging of DRAM memory and storage into one high-speed, high-bandwidth architecture. Unfortunately, such a leap is still a long way off according Intel developers.