Our portable smartphones, tablets, and laptops store data in flash memory instead of bulky, physical hard drives. But flash memory has a limited life span of a few thousand re-write cycles and requires additional components to manage storage degradation, adding cost and slowing down performance.
Researchers are developing next generation data storage technology based on phase-change materials (PCM). Memory chips using PCM can handle over 10 million re-write cycles and are a 100 times faster than current flash memory. Additional advantages include greater storage density and lower power consumption.
Phase change memory chips stores data by heating glass-like chemicals in each cell with pulses of electrical energy. The strength of the pulse determines whether the chemicals crystalize into orderly structures while cooling or a more random state. These correspond to the “1” or “0” needed for binary storage. Rewritable CD-RW and DVD-RW discs use a similar process.
Chips using PCM technology will transform the performance and storage of portable devices. With their increased performance and reduced energy requirements the technology may soon find its way into desktop and server computers as well.
Full story at The Economist