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Significance of SRAMs in nextgen IoT and wearables

Posted: 17 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SRAM  processors  DRAMs  Flash 

There are two ways to deal with this issue. One would be to have different process technology nodes for the SRAM area and the logic area in a processor or system on chip. However, this would lead to a situation where most of the area of a processor would be its SRAM. In such a case, the very reason for shrinking the processor chip would be defeated. The other option would be to separate the SRAM from the processor or controller. There are some technological innovations that are in fact speeding up this alternative.

SRAMs in wearable electronics
In today's world, microcontrollers (MCUs) are found in a wide array of devices. A major electronics boom that we're experiencing today is in wearable electronics (figure 2). For wearables such as smart watches and health bands, size and power are critical factors. Due to limited board size, the MCU has to be very small and able to run on the frugal power provided by portable batteries.

 wearable electronics

Figure 2: Requirements of wearable electronics is driving the resurgence of SRAMs.

To fulfil the above requirements, on-chip cache is limited. In future generations, we can expect more functionality to be associated with wearables. In such a case, the on-chip cache will fall short and the need will arise for an external cache. Of all the memory options available, SRAMs would be the most fitting option to act as an external cache. This arises from their lower standby current consumption compared to DRAM, and lower access time than both DRAM and Flash.

However, to fit into the tiny wearable boards, SRAMs will need to evolve. The problems with existing parallel SRAMs include:
 • Too many pins required for communicating with the MCU
 • Too large to fit on the PCB.

The Internet of Things and SRAMs
For the last few decades, the SRAM space has been divided between two distinct product families – fast and low-power, each with its own set of features, applications, and price. The devices where SRAMs are used need it for either its high-speed or its low power consumption, but not both. However, there is an increasing demand for high-performance devices with low power consumption to perform complex operations while running on portable power. This demand is driven by a new generation of medical devices, handheld devices, consumer electronics products, communication systems, and industrial controllers, all driven by the Internet of Things (IoT).

The growth of IoT is headed in two distinct directions – smart wearables and automation. Wearables, as we discussed earlier, will be serviced best by SRAMs that have a small footprint and low power consumption. At the same time, the impact of the Internet of Things will be felt in industrial, commercial, and large-scale operations, and for automating individual houses to vast factories and entire cities. SRAMs that can retain high-speed performance while reducing power consumption in a small package will offer significant value in IoT applications.

Microcontrollers from many of the major players have already adapted to the changing demand for such crossover devices, through special low-power modes like Deep Power-Down and Deep-Sleep. During these modes, the peripherals and memory modules are also expected to save power. Thus, to be a preferred choice for IoT designs, SRAMs will have to evolve in such a way that a customer need not worry about a trade-off between performance and power.

How SRAMs are evolving. It is evident that exciting times are ahead for stand-alone SRAM manufacturers, provided they innovate to align their products with the new-age application requirements. The key areas of innovation for SRAMs include:
 • Smaller sized chips: This calls for advancement in process technology as well as innovation in packaging
 • Lower pin count: Currently, most SRAMs have parallel interface. Serial SRAMs in the market have only low density options. The need would be to manufacture higher density Serial SRAMs
 • High performance chips that consume less power
 • On-chip soft-error correction

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