Toshiba developing MRAM for smartphone processors

The Japanese conglomerate says MRAM can replace the SRAM currently used with mobile CPUs

Toshiba has developed a low-power, high-speed version of MRAM memory that it says can cut power consumption in mobile CPUs by two-thirds.

The company said Monday that its new MRAM (magnetoresistive random access memory) can be used in smartphones as cache memory for mobile processors, replacing the SRAM that is widely used today.

"Recently, the amount of SRAM used in mobile application processors has been increasing, and this has increased the power usage," said Toshiba spokesman Atsushi Ido.

"This research is focused on cutting the power consumption, while increasing speed, as opposed to increasing the amount of memory."

Lowering power consumption in mobile gadgets is a focus for device makers, where heat and battery life are major concerns for consumers. MRAM used for memory caches will be on the order of several megabytes of storage. The technology is also being developed by Toshiba and other companies at much higher storage capacity as a possible replacement for flash and DRAM memory.

MRAM uses magnetic storage to keep track of bits, in contrast to most current RAM technologies, which use electric charges. The newer technology is non-volatile, retaining its data even without power, but usually requires more current to operate at high speeds.

Toshiba said its research uses spin-torque technology, in which the spin of electrons is used to set the orientation of its magnetic bits, lowering the charge required for data writes. The new chips use elements that are smaller than 30nm.

Ido said there is no time frame for when its MRAM memory-cache will enter the market.

Separately, Toshiba is also working with Hynix to develop MRAM for next-generation memory products. Toshiba has said it will promote products that combine several memory technologies, such as MRAM and NAND flash.

Last month, Everspin announced it had shipped the world's first ST (Spin-Torque) MRAM chip as a replacement for DRAM. The company said it sees the new chips serving as buffer memory in solid-state drives and as fast-access memory, especially in data centers.

Toshiba will present the research at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) to be held in San Francisco this week, which focuses on new semiconductor technologies. The IEEE, or Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, is an organization that promotes research on mainly electrical engineering topics.

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