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Resistive RAM breakthrough could mean smartphones with terabytes of storage

Tom Morgan
25 Jul 2014
Flash memory diagram
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University research breakthrough could mean significantly higher storage capacity in our smartphones and tablets

Today's smartphones might have higher resolution screens, faster processors and better graphics performance than desktop PCs from ten years ago, but there's one area that they have consistently lagged behind: storage. 64GB is about as big as it's possible to get, which falls short of the terabyte hard disks most of us now have in our laptops or computers. That could be set to change soon, though, as a new method for producing high capacity memory modules has been discovered.

Researchers at Rice University have announced a breakthrough in their work on a new type of Resistive RAM (RRAM), which could mean small capacity smartphones are a thing of the past. By using a porous silicon oxide material, RRAM modules can be manufactured at room temperature using standard production methods, rather than the expensive production process used today. This means it will be cheaper to make, and produce higher yields - so less wasted silicon.

RRAM differs from traditional RAM modules by using a dielectric material (ie a material that wouldn't normally conduct electricity) placed between two wires. Applying a high enough voltage to the wires will form a path through the dielectric material. Essentially this means it can be in an On or Off state at any one time, or a 1 or 0 in computing terms.

Previously, these high voltages made RRAM impractical for smartphones and tablets, but this latest breakthrough could make it feasible for use. The University expects RRAM to completely replace current flash memory technology within the next few years, with the potential to store more than 50 times the current data density. Prototype chips are already in development by RRAM specialist Crossbar, which can store one terabyte of data on a chip no larger than a postage stamp.

According to the University, several manufacturers have already expressed an interest in using RRAM technology in their forthcoming products, so we could be seeing smartphones with significantly more storage a lot sooner than we thought.

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