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Phase-change memory ready for manufacturing?

Posted: 08 Jun 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:phase-change memory  embedded memory  flash memory  CMOS process 

NXP BV is making research progress on a proprietary form of phase-change memory (PCM), which chief technology officer Rene Penning de Vries, described as "promising."

"We have seen good retention and endurance numbers. The next question is whether to take it to manufacturing," he said, adding that the decision had not yet been taken. Key advantages of PCMs are that they retain data even when power is removed allowing for aggressive energy-saving strategies. PCMs are expected to perform better than flash memory, the current technology, and also scale to smaller geometries than flash memory can.

Penning de Vries discussed the PCM development after providing a keynote talk at the facilities of IMEC, as an opening to the IMEC Technology Forum. NXP, and Philips Semiconductors before it, has been a partner for IMEC for many years and has located key R&D teams in Leuven to work on proprietary programmes using the facilities as well as to take part in collaborative research.

NXP uses Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd for some outsourced manufacturing in advanced CMOS processes but is also collaborating with TSMC on "mainstream technologies' including PCM.

The technology differs from that being offered by Numonyx BV, a company formed by Intel and STMicroelectronics. Whereas the Numonyx PCM is based on technology transferred from Ovonyx Inc. and ultimately from Energy Conversion Devices Inc., the NXP PCM is based, in part, on the application of knowledge of phase-change materials derived from the development of rewritable compact disks and DVDs. Both are ultimately based on the phase-change between amorphous and crystalline states in chalcogenide materials. In NXP's case this various admixtures of Germanium, Tellurium and Antimony.

NXP has been conducting research on various dopings of such DVD-RW materials in various lateral configurations and their integration with standard CMOS processes, for the creation of an embedded memory technology.

The PCM development is also part of TSMC's expanding European R&D, also announced at the IMEC Technology Forum. "Europe is key in wireless and automotive technology," said Maria Marced, president of TSMC Europe. "And PCM is very well suited to the automotive market. The PCM technology is a joint development between NXP and TSMC. We have joint R&D with NXP in Leuven with about 20 projects, of which PCM is one."

However, Marced agreed with Penning de Vries that the PCM technology was still too immature to be a certainty to go into production. "We believe flash still has a lot of life," she said.

-Peter Clarke>
EE Times Europe

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