It has been more than three decades since the invention of microchip-based memories like RAM, SRAM, DRAM, and EPROM, and these products have served the needs of the market quite well. Yet evolving requirements and technical challenges are demanding the development of entirely new memory technologies.
Microprocessor advances are driving the need for these new technologies. To keep in step with microprocessor development, memory suppliers have used the dynamics of Moore's Law to continually improve the performance of their products. This trend will continue.
Nevertheless, there are doubts regarding how long memory chip manufacturers can continue to rely on advances in semiconductor manufacturing technology to keep pace. It's hard to tell if semiconductor manufacturing technology will be available to enable DRAMs to achieve critical parameters for areas like oxide thickness after 2007, according to the 2004 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.
Already, memory manufacturers have adopted new nanotech materials to address these problems. They now face the challenge of offering entirely new basic cell structures for their products. Multiple technologies have been suggested as potential replacements for current memories, including magnetic RAM (MRAM), ferroelectric RAM (FeRAM), and phase-change RAM (PRAM).
It's now very difficult to predict which technology will achieve success because much depends on the strategies and specific target applications of the various suppliers of these parts. However, many of today's top memory suppliers will continue to lead as the market shifts to new technologies and products.
Nam Hyung Kim is a principal analyst at iSuppli Corp. His latest report covers emerging memory technologies. He can be reached at [email protected]