NEC, Toshiba claim MRAM breakthroughs

NEC and Toshiba have made two advancements in developing a new type of memory that could eventually replace the standard memory used in mobile phones, MP3 players and other portable electronic devices, the companies said Wednesday.

Flash memory is currently favored for portable devices and memory cards because it retains data after a device is switched off. Several companies, including NEC and Toshiba, are developing a type of memory called MRAM (magnetorestitive RAM) that uses magnetic fields to store data. MRAM can retain data when switched off, and can also recall data faster, work longer and potentially be produced at a lower cost than flash memory, according to its proponents.

MRAM could replace flash and DRAM (dynamic RAM) by as early as 2010, its backers say, but only if certain technical problems are solved first.

One issue involves the size of MRAM cells, which tend to be bigger than those of other memory types. Bigger cells result in higher production costs and can also use a lot of power when writing data. The developers must also determine how to control magnetic fields in each memory cell, to stop the fields from interfering with their neighbors and creating errors.

For these and other reasons, the capacity of MRAM chips developed so far has been limited to about 16M bits, while flash memory is already available in gigabit densities.

NEC and Toshiba developed two technologies that help solve some of the problems, allowing MRAM chips to store much more data and use less electricity, they said Wednesday. The technologies could allow them to develop 256M-bit MRAMs by early 2006, they said.

One technology involves a new cell design that has arc-shaped bulges on its sides. The design reduces the amount of current required to write to the cells by about a half compared to current MRAM designs and also reduces errors, the companies said.

They also developed an alternative to the two basic MRAM cell designs produced to date. One of these existing designs couples each cell with a transistor, which improves "read times" but increases cell size. The other removes the transistor from each cell but results in read errors and longer read-access times.

NEC and Toshiba created a design that uses one transistor to control four cells, resulting in smaller cells that have a faster read time of about 250 nanoseconds. It has been used to design a 1M-bit chip that uses only about half the voltage of Toshiba's current 4G-bit flash products, the companies said.

Despite the advances, Toshiba is not ready to commercialize MRAM chips, said spokesman Makoto Yasuda.

MRAM could one day be useful for flash or other memory applications, said Kim Soo-Kyoum, a program director for semiconductor research at IDC. However, its small memory capacities and future development work may mean MRAM takes a long time to replace other memory types, he said.

"MRAM is just in its infancy. Really, it's future is as yet unknown," he said.

Join the newsletter!


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.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Kallender

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2018

Secure and Save before time runs out with Bitdefender Exclusive Clearance Offer! Get Bitdefender Total Security 2018 Now!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

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.

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?