A new type of DRAM might pave the way to instant-on PCs

nanoguy

TS Addict
Staff member

If you've been following the news on memory tech, you may have heard of several technologies that could make RAM and SSDs faster, denser, and more energy efficient. There's also a lot of research out there that focuses on finding a way to do "in-memory computing," essentially removing the need for data to go back and forth between the processor, memory, and non-volatile storage of a device.

All of this stems from the fact that writing data to DRAM is fast and energy-efficient, but as soon as power is lost, so is the integrity of that data. Then you have to constantly refresh that data, which isn't very efficient. On the other hand, NAND is a relatively robust way to store data, but writing and erasing are slow operations that deteriorate the cells, making it impractical for use as working memory.

Researchers at the University of Lancaster in the UK say they've built a new type of non-volatile memory that works at DRAM speeds while reportedly using only one percent of the energy needed by the latter when writing data.

The prototype technology is called UK III-V Memory, and is built on a 20nm lithographic process. Researchers explain that it offers 5ns write times -- which is comparable to DRAM -- and flash-like readout simplicity. But the most interesting feature is actually the non-volatility, which is the ability to keep the data intact when powered off.

At the time of writing, the prototype is said to be able to erase and program data using a voltage of 2.1 V, while typical NAND cells are erased using 3 V. The way it achieves this is through a "dual well resonant tunnelling junction," which uses alternating layers of GaSb (gallium antimonide) and InAs (indium arsenide).

Similar to how flash memory works, the new memory cell uses a "floating gate" to store a '1' or a '0', but here the InAs floating gate is isolated by the large conduction band discontinuity with GaSb and AlSb. In simple terms, the transistors used in the UK III-V memory have better defined on and off states, and they are designed to take advantage of the two materials to make sure they store that information for an "extraordinarily long" time.

There are no details on the power requirements for read operations, but lead researcher Manus Hayne says the new memory won't need to reconstruct data whenever it reads a '1,' nor will it need to constantly refresh it to ensure data integrity. So even if reads do take more power, the trade-off is worth it.

The UK III-V memory could enable devices to keep data in the event of a power loss, and power on almost instantly and back to where you left off. Hayne believes it could replace the $100 billion market for DRAM and flash memory, and is in the process of being patented.

In the meantime, Hynix plans to manufacture the world's fastest DRAM yet based on HBM2E technology, which can transfer data at over 460 GB per second. Intel has been shipping its Optane DC Persistent Memory DIMMs to enterprise clients for months, offering them a way to bridge the gap between DRAM and NAND for certain workloads that require the best of both worlds.

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Verrm

TS Enthusiast
This is going to have huge security implications: your secrets will stay exposed (in memory) when you turn off your machine...
If someone has physical access to your machine you better expect it to be compromised already. If you didn't know there are over 250 vulnerabilities just for intel CPUs, over 15 for AMD CPUs and that doesn't count software vulnerabilities. If you allow someone to touch your computer please don't talk about security, thank you. This implication my friend is like a drop of water in an ocean.
 
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gamerk2

TS Evangelist
Oh yeah, sounds awesome! This will go well with that new battery tech everyone's talking about. You know the one that holds 10x the charge and charges instantly. *roll eyes*
The problem is *always* commercialization, which is expensive. That's why, more often then not, the cheaper to produce option wins in the market over technically superior ones.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
This is going to have huge security implications: your secrets will stay exposed (in memory) when you turn off your machine...
An excellent point! I would hope when it arrives it might have some added features like the ability to soft switch internet access during "down times" in order to provide one more simple layer of protection, but it will need to be more sophisticated to prevent any kind of bypass ....
 

BadThad

TS Addict
Surprised at all the negative comments. Technology breakthroughs are always a good thing for all humans in the long run. We'll resolve all the concerns eventually and we'll have a better way to do things.
 
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Burty117

TechSpot Chancellor
Surprised at all the negative comments. Technology breakthroughs are always a good thing for all humans in the long run. We'll resolve all the concerns eventually and we'll have a better way to do things.
They've been saying that for 20 years now about batteries, we have a "break through" every other week but none of them are yet to materialise. That's why the comment sections are like this :)
 
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quadibloc

TS Addict
Non-volatile memory will be a wonderful thing if it is achieved. However, using it to allow a computer running Microsoft Windows to never have to reboot, even after being turned off to save power, may not be a good idea - it's legitimate to point that out as well. However, if people use their computers for short sessions, skipping every second reboot, or two out of three reboots, may be perfectly reasonable.

Sometimes, when new technologies come along, we have to learn how to use them properly.
 

Mugsy

TS Evangelist
WOW! "Instant On"!

In a few years, we might actually see a computer that boots up faster than my old Atari 800XL. (SMH)

Most old 8bit PC's had the OS on ROM. I also had "SpartaDOS-X" on a cartridge, so there was no waiting for that either (my 1040STe had a full GUI OS on ROM too.)

I just don't understand why modern PC's can't do what computers were doing 30-40 years ago?