TSMC helps develop next-generation memory technology

In a move that may lead to the development of cheaper memory that is able to store data without power, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) has entered into an agreement to jointly research and develop magnetic RAM (MRAM) technology with the Electronics Research and Service Organization (ERSO) of the Taiwanese government-backed Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI).

MRAM is a non-volatile memory technology based on magnetoresistive materials that is currently under development by several leading chip makers, including IBM Corp. and Intel Corp. When it becomes commercially available, MRAM is expected to offer the ability to store large volumes of data without requiring power -- a feature that makes the memory technology attractive for use in mobile applications, such as cell phones and portable computers.

MRAM stores data by applying magnetic fields that cause magnetic materials to enter one of two magnetic states. By comparison, existing memory technologies, such as SRAM (static RAM) and DRAM (dynamic RAM), use an electric charge to store data.

Another benefit of MRAM is cost. While it is still too early to tell what kind of yield chip makers like TSMC will be able to get, MRAM will be produced using standard CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) technology like that used to make DRAM, making MRAM cheaper to produce than other non-volatile memory types, such as flash, which requires specialized CMOS technology.

"If the technology is mature then the yield will be high and the cost will be much lower," said Ming-Jinn Tsai, director of ITRI's Semiconductor Technology Division. "If the maturity of the technology is similar (to DRAM), the cost will be similar."

Initially expected to replace flash memory in some applications from the middle of the decade, MRAM also holds out the potential to replace SRAM and DRAM in many applications. "Most people predict that within 10 years it can compete with DRAM," Tsai said.

With the first MRAM chips expected to be commercially available in 2004, TSMC and ITRI expect to be about one year behind. The first MRAM products based on technology developed by the joint project -- which so far includes 10 engineers from ERSO and three from TSMC -- will likely hit the market in 2005, Tsai said.

Under the R&D agreement announced Thursday, ERSO will use Hsinchu, Taiwan-based TSMC's magnetic circuit design and product certification to develop process technologies for high-density MRAM in a bid to speed development of the technology in Taiwan, according to a joint statement issued Thursday.

Technology developed by the two partners will not be made available to other companies, Tsai said.

TSMC spokesman Richard Chung declined to comment further on what the agreement with ITRI means for TSMC or when the company expects the MRAM technology to become commercially available. "Maybe we will have something more to say at a later stage," he said.

One possible area where TSMC may be planning to use MRAM is in system-on-chip (SOC) products, Tsai said. SOCs incorporate several functions, such as a processor core and memory, on a single piece of silicon, reducing the number of chips and amount of power needed in a device, such as a mobile phone. Incorporating MRAM on an SOC would further reduce power consumption and costs compared with other memory types.

"Because (MRAM) is CMOS-compatible it is possible to embed the memory with other ICs (integrated circuits)," Tsai said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sumner Lemon

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?