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Researchers boost MRAM technology

Posted: 21 Aug 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:magnetic memory devices  memory chips  MRAM  "ballistic switching" 

A research team at the German metrology institute PTB has carried out a switching process in a magnetic medium at the highest speed theoretically possible under physical aspects. The move could help to make magnetic memory devices as fast as their electronic counterparts.

Today's prevailing computer memory chips such as DRAM and SRAM have the drawback to be volatile—as soon as the power supply is turned off, they lose their content. An alternative could be MRAM devices which store the data not by means of an electric charge but through the magnetisation direction of its storage cells. The zeros and ones in the memory are written into the cells by applying a positive or negative electric pulse. The latest MRAM generation utilises the spin-torque effect which promises a very high memory density. For this reason, researchers worldwide are intensively working to develop technical solutions for this type of memory.

A current pulse through a spin-torque memory cell causes the magnetic magnetisation to gyrate. In order to reliably switch the information bit contained in a cell it hitherto was necessary to apply the pulse over several revolutions. For this reason the write process required some 10 nanoseconds.

The PTB experiment has proved that a bit can be written into such an MRAM cell within one revolution. The Braunschweig researchers were able to achieve what they call "ballistic switching" by combining the correct current pulse parameters with a low-intensity static magnetic field, the institute says. Apparently the selection of pulse parameters does the trick; details will be published in the September edition of the Physical Review Letters magazine.

By means of ballistic switching, MRAM write cycles could be brought to below 1 nanosecond, the researchers said in a press release. In technical implementations, MRAM thus could compete against the currently fastest SRAMs without featuring their disadvantage of volatility.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times Europe

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