HP plans to release first memristor memory alternative to flash and solid state drives in 18 months

HP intends to have an alternative technology to flash on the market in eighteen months, an alternative to DRAM in three to four years and, following DRAM, a replacement for SRAM, Stan Williams, Senior Fellow at HP, told the IEF2011 meeting in Seville this morning.

“We’re planning to put a replacement chip on the market to go up against flash within a year and a half,” said Williams, “and we also intend to have an SSD replacement available in a year and a half.”

“In 2014 possibly, or certainly by 2015, we will have a competitor for DRAM and then we’ll replace SRAM.”

The ‘memristor’is two-terminal non-volatile memory technology.

EEtimes – We have a lot of big plans for it and we’re working with Hynix Semiconductor to launch a replacement for flash in the summer of 2013 and also to address the solid-state drive market,” Williams told the audience of the International Electronics Forum.

Williams said that the memristor metrics being achieved, in terms of energy to change a bit, read, write time, retention and endurance, were so compelling that the HP-Hynix team now considered flash replacement a done deal.

“Now we’re going after DRAM, and we think we can do two orders of magnitude improvement in terms of switching energy per bit.”

HP’s technology allows the memory layers to be put directly on top of the processor layer making for very fast systems on chip.

“We put the non-volatile memory right on top of the processor chip, and, because you’re not shipping data off-chip, that means we get the equivalent of 20 years of Moore’s Law performance improvement,” said Williams.

“We’re running hundreds of wafers through the fab,” said Williams, we’re way ahead of where we thought we would be at this moment in time.”

HP’s approach is memristor, thin film technology which it allows it to stack an “arbitrary number of layers,” said Williams, with 500 billion memristors per layer at 5nm.

Asked if HP was going back into the components business, Williams replied: “We’re the world’s largest purchaser of DRAM and the second largest buyer of flash and we’re trying to disrupt and re-arrange our supply chain. The plan is to license this technology to anyone who wants it, and we’ll teach them how to make it. But you’ll have to stand in line, we have a bunch of people queued for it. We’re doing this because, frankly, we didn’t see a hell of a lot of innovation happening out there.”

Asked about the competition, Williams said: “Samsung has An even larger group working on this than we do.”

When challenged over the cost of the technology, which would be the barrier to competing against the high-volume flash memory market, Williams said: “On a price per bit basis we could be an order of magnitude lower cost once you get the NRE [non-recurring expenses] out of the way.”

HP has amassed some 500 patents around the memristor over the last three years. He also acknowledged that phase-change memory (PCM), Resistive RAM (RRAM) and other two-terminal memory devices are all memristor-type devices.

Williams touted the cross-point nature of the memristor memory switch or resistive RAM device as a memory capacity advantage over flash memory. “Whatever the best in flash memory is, we’ll be able to double that.”

Implication logic and the synapse

Williams compared HP’s resistive RAM technology against flash and claimed to meet or exceed the performance of flash memory in all categories. Read times are less than 10 nanoseconds and write/erase times are about 0.1-ns. HP is still accumulating endurance cycle data at 10^12 cycles and the retention times are measured in years, he said.

This creates the prospect of adding dense non-volatile memory as an extra layer on top of logic circuitry. “We could offer 2-Gbytes of memory per core on the processor chip. Putting non-volatile memory on top of the logic chip will buy us twenty years of Moore’s Law, said Williams.

Further out Williams said the memristor could be used for computation under a scheme called “implication logic” in a fraction of the area taken up in CMOS by Boolean logic. In addition a memristor device is a good analog of the synapse in brain function.

One of the best things about the memristor memory is that it is a simple structure made using materials that are already common in the world’s wafer fabs making CMOS-compatible devices relatively straight forward, he said.

In conclusion Williams stressed that HP would not be getting into the semiconductor components business but would seek to commercialize and then license the technology to all comers.

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