IBM, Infineon plan magnetic memory chips

The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate in the development of MRAM (Magnetic Random Access Memory), which uses magnetic, rather than electronic, charges to store bits of data. MRAM may significantly improve the performance of electronic devices -- from computers to cell phones to game systems -- by storing more information, accessing it faster and using less battery power than the electronic memory used today, IBM and Infineon said in a joint statement.

MRAM also retains information when power is turned off, meaning products like PCs can start up instantly, without waiting for software to boot up. Commercial MRAM products could be available by 2004, the companies said.

According to the two companies, MRAM combines the best features of today's common semiconductor memory technologies -- the high speed of SRAM (static RAM), the storage capacity and low-cost of DRAM (dynamic RAM) and the non-volatility of flash memory.

IBM and Infineon said that non-volatility carries significant implications, especially for the emerging breed of pervasive computing devices. Memory technologies like DRAM and SRAM require constant electrical power to retain stored data; when power is cut off, all data in memory is lost. By using MRAM, computers could work more like other electronic devices such as a television or radio -- turn the power on and the machine jumps to life.

Since MRAM does not need constant power to keep the data intact, it could consume much less than current RAM technologies, extending the battery life of cellular phones, handheld devices, laptops and other battery-powered products, the companies said.

IBM pioneered the development of a miniature component called the magnetic tunnel junction as early as 1974, eventually adapting it as a means to store information and to build an actual working MRAM chip in 1998. Infineon will contribute its expertise in creating very high density semiconductor memory, according to the statement.

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