Motorola on course to ship MRAM samples in 2003

Motorola is on track to ship sample MRAM (Magnetic RAM) chips next year, with commercial production of the next-generation non-volatile memory chips slated to begin in 2004, the company said Monday.

The announcement comes as Motorola unveiled a prototype 1M-bit MRAM chip, joining an earlier 256K-bit prototype produced by the company.

MRAM stores data by applying magnetic fields that cause certain materials to enter one of two magnetic states. That state is maintained without needing any power input -- so-called non-volatile memory. By contrast, volatile memory technologies like DRAM use an electric charge to store data and need to be continually refreshed to maintain their state.

When MRAM becomes commercially available in 2004, it is expected to offer the ability to store large volumes of data without requiring power -- a feature that makes the memory technology suitable for use in mobile applications, such as cell phones and portable computers.

MRAM is expected to first replace more expensive non-volatile memory types such as flash in these applications and to also eventually supplant the volatile memory types like SRAM (static RAM) and DRAM (dynamic RAM) in other applications such as desktop PCs.

One principal benefit of MRAM is cost. While it is still too early to tell what kind of yield chip makers 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 require specialized CMOS technology.

MRAM technology is currently under development by several leading chip makers, including IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.