25. July 2006, 11:53 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

MRAM chips have finally hit the market.

What is an MRAMchip? It is a type of memory chip that can store data for an indefinite period of time without any applied power. There is nothing new in that, except that the MRAM is faster than flash memory and does not deteriorate with use. In a combination of magnetics and silicon, it relies on magnetic tunnel junctions that act like transistors. Data is stored as resistance to current at these junctions. As magnetic polarization doesn't bleed off when power is removed, data can be retained indefinitely. And as changing the polarity of the magnetic field requires no atomic or electron movement there is no ‘mechanism’ to wear out. This is reminiscent of, and based on a similar principal to the old core memory used in older mainframe and mini-computers where the memory junction was a physical toroidal ‘core’ positioned around the junction of two conductors.

The new chips are about $25.00 USD from Freescale Semiconductor for a 4 Mbit chip - not exactly a bargain price compared with current technology. They hold great promise as a method to hold data and configuration data for equipment when powertrd down. Honeywell has licenced the technology to develope products for the military and aerospace markets - a place where such reliable storage and data retention would be critical. They also offer the potential for reducing further the power consumption in conventional workstations which could retain their state when powered off and then back on.

While not an issue until MRAM moves more into the mainstream, it does pose an interesting security issue - retained data in memory, and potential magnetic resonance images of previous data (similar to removing layers of data from a floppy or hard drive. The technology is in its infancy so these issues may never arise, but they make for interesting speculation.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: MRAM,SDRAM,DRAM,magnetic,memory,random access,semiconductors



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