System designers long have envisioned a new type of memory—one that serves the needs of all products and uses equally well. Once perfected, this universal memory would deliver a set of performance and cost metrics that includes:
While no single semiconductor memory technology today measures up to these requirements, many efforts are under way to realize the dream of tomorrow's universal memory. One promising candidate, the nanotube RAM (NRAM), is being developed by a company called Nantero Inc.
NRAMs are based on carbon nanotubes (CNT), using an array of small filaments of carbon molecules suspended over an electrode. When voltage is applied to the tube, it sags ever so slightly to make contact with the underlying electrode. This gives it an electrical bias of one, with the zero state being a non-sagging CNT.
With its development partner, LSI Logic Corp., Nantero has installed a working module demonstrating repeatable results in a wafer fabrication facility. Nantero says that NRAM is faster than DRAM, consumes substantially less power than flash memory or DRAM, is totally nonvolatile, and is highly resistant to heat, cold, and magnetism. If that weren't enough, because the CNTs are stronger than diamond, their endurance is unlimited.
Nantero has been in business for only four years, but it seems to be further along the development continuum than some of the other emerging technology candidates that have been around longer. While it's too early to say if NRAM will win the universal memory race, it certainly is a technology worth watching.