The new technology, called Phase-Change Memory (PCM), potentially offers better performance than Flash. Most importantly, PCM is better suited to continuing the rapid shrinking of features for cost and speed advantage that has long characterized the semiconductor industry than Flash and other so-called "Non- Volatile Memories" (NVM), which are able to store information even when their power is switched off.
The new memory technology exploits the fact that certain so-called 'chalcogenide' materials can be reversibly switched between two stable states -- one amorphous with a high electrical resistance, the other crystalline with a low resistance -- by appropriately heating the material. A memory cell in the new technology consists essentially of a variable resistance formed by the chalcogenide material and its tiny electrical heater, along with a selection transistor used for the read/write operations.
ST's progress towards developing a commercial PCM technology was described in two papers presented at one of the semiconductor industry's most important annual forums, the VLSI Technology and Circuits Symposia held in Honolulu on June 15-19, 2004. In one paper, ST showed for the first time an innovative cell structure that can be easily integrated into the mainstream chip manufacturing process and which gives good indications of its manufacturability and cost. In a second paper, ST described the practical implementation of this technology in the form of an 8-Mbit demonstrator chip designed to assess the feasibility of cost-effective large non-volatile memories.
Based on the highly-promising results it has obtained to date, ST already envisages the new Phase-Change Memory technology being used in medium-density, stand-alone memories and embedded applications. Moreover, by demonstrating the feasibility of the key features that make the PCM cell most attractive, ST has increased its confidence in the long-term scalability of the technology, which will eventually allow PCM to become a mainstream Non-Volatile Memory technology.