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New ReRAM chip promises 'super-fast' memory

Posted: 21 May 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:memory chips  ReRAM  silicon oxide  memristor  computer processor 

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have developed what they claim is the first purely silicon oxide-based 'Resistive RAM' memory chip that can operate in ambient conditions.

Resistive RAM (or 'ReRAM') memory chips are based on materials, most often oxides of metals, whose electrical resistance changes when a voltage is applied – and they "remember" this change even when the power is turned off.

"ReRAM chips promise significantly greater memory storage than current technology, such as the Flash memory used on USB sticks, and require much less energy and space," say researchers.

The UCL team has developed a novel structure composed of silicon oxide, described in a recent paper in the Journal of Applied Physics, which performs the switch in resistance "much more efficiently than has been previously achieved."

In their material, the arrangement of the silicon atoms changes to form filaments of silicon within the solid silicon oxide, which are less resistive. The presence or absence of these filaments represents a 'switch' from one state to another.

Unlike other silicon oxide chips currently in development, the UCL chip does not require a vacuum to work, and is therefore potentially cheaper and more durable. The design also raises the possibility of transparent memory chips for use in touchscreens and mobile devices.

"Our ReRAM memory chips need just a thousandth of the energy and are around a hundred times faster than standard Flash memory chips. The fact that the device can operate in ambient conditions and has a continuously variable resistance opens up a huge range of potential applications," said Tony Kenyon from UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

"We are also working on making a quartz device with a view to developing transparent electronics."

The device can be configured as a memristor. "During proof of concept development we have shown we can programme the chips using the cycle between two or more states of conductivity. We're very excited that our devices may be an important step towards new silicon memory chips."

The new ReRAM technology was discovered by accident whilst engineers at UCL were working on using the silicon oxide material to produce silicon-based LEDs. During the course of the project, researchers noticed that their devices appeared to be unstable.

The technology has promising applications beyond memory storage. The team is also exploring using the resistance properties of their material not just for use in memory but also as a computer processor.

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