Flash memory's main advantage is that it retains its data even after power is removed. But NEC and Toshiba are developing a new memory technology which also does this, but in a way that is faster and more reliable. This new memory should work longer, and can potentially be produced at a lower cost than flash memory.

Called MRAM (magnetorestitive RAM), the new memory might well replace flash memory and DRAM within the next five years. However, in order for that to happen, several technical problems need to be addressed and fixed.

"One issue involves the size of MRAM cells, which tend to be bigger than those of other memory types. Bigger cells result in higher production costs and can also use a lot of power when writing data. The developers must also determine how to control magnetic fields in each memory cell, to stop the fields from interfering with their neighbors and creating errors.

For these and other reasons, the capacity of MRAM chips developed so far has been limited to about 16 megabits, while flash memory is already available in gigabit densities."

However, NEC and Toshiba are developing two technologies that will address these issues, and will allow MRAM chips to much more data and use less electricity. So, expect to hear much more about MRAM soon.