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Research: Ferroelectric memories trump DRAM, flash

Posted: 14 Aug 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DRAM  ferroelectric  flash  transistor  FeDRAM 

Materials researchers have long sought a ferroelectric material that could work in flash-sized bit cells that retain information for as long as a decade—the base requirement for non-volatile memories.

Researchers at Yale University and the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) claim that ferroelectrics are more appropriate for replacing DRAM than flash. Current DRAM technology has to be refreshed every few milliseconds; ferroelectric materials could last minutes without freshing.

Yale and SRC researchers recently demonstrated an experimental ferroelectric transistor for FeDRAMs that retained information 1,000x longer than DRAMs, consumed 20x less power and can, they claim, be scaled to even the most advanced nodes on the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.

"Our memories are as fast a DRAM, if not faster, but are as small as flash, and more scalable," claimed Yale engineering professor Tso-Ping Ma. "Flash runs into a brick wall at 25nm node, but FeDRAMs can scale as small as CMOS, which could extend below the 10nm node."

Ferroelectric memories use oxides like lead zirconate titanate that spontaneously form into nanoscale dipoles that can be electrically switched. To make memories non-volatile, chipmakers must shield bit cells from the depolarisation fields normally created by the circuitry of silicon chips. The resulting package size makes them non-competitive with flash.

On the other hand, FeDRAMs combine the virtues of both DRAM and flash, and potentially could scale to smaller sizes since a bit cell is essentially a CMOS transistor using a ferroelectric material for its gate oxide.

"Several chipmakers have non-volatile FRAMs, but they shield the bit cell from depolarisation fields by sandwiching the ferroelectric material between two metals, making their cell sizes too large to be competitive with flash," said Ma. "But our cell sizes are very competitive [with] flash."

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