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Numonyx bets on Phase-Change Memory

Virident says thanks for the memory

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Flash memory supplier Numonyx is betting that servers will use Phase-Change Memory (PCM) to provide dramatic increases in performance for in-memory applications.

It's signed a deal with Virident to supply NAND flash, and PCM for use as sub-DRAM tiers of storage in Virident's Green Gateway servers. The PCM could theoretically be a DRAM replacement, as it is said to be as fast as DRAM while still being non-volatile.

Virident is a start-up, founded in 2006, intending to build servers particularly designed for data-intensive applications that would use much less energy than current servers. The idea was to greatly increase performance through the use of Spansion EcoRAM, which combines NOR flash and DRAM characteristics, to enable in-memory execution, reduce the need for disk accesses during application run times, and use less power than the replaced DRAM.

Spansion has been hit by financial troubles, with layoffs, chapter 11 bankruptcy and Nasdaq delisting. Numonyx must look a healthier partner to Virident.

Raj Parekh, Virident's president and CEO, said: "Numonyx is uniquely suited as a partner to provide industry-leading, enterprise-class flash and PCM memory technologies in the coming years. These will help us create a new approach to industry-standard servers, which will mean extraordinary innovation in cloud applications and servers with superior performance, cost and energy efficiency."

Numonyx was started up in March 2008, and formed from a combination of certain solid state interests from Intel and STMicroelectronics. It sampled a 128Mbit PCM device in June last year. PCM technology first started appearing in 2005 or so.

Electricity pulses are applied to PCM cells to change their phase from one state to another with the differing electrical resistance of the two phase states representing a binary one or zero.

There are several other NAND successor candidates, including STT RAM, Qimonda's carbon-resistive memory, and Programmable Metallization Cell memory. The potential benefits of combining the access speed and bit addressability of DRAM with the non-volatility of PCM or some other NAND successor, so long as it is affordable, is that computer memories would preserve their contents when power is switched off.

Such systems should require much less electricity than current hard disk drive-based servers. There would be no need to load operating systems and application software into memory when a system is powered up, faster performance through no waiting for disk data, and, if capacities are large enough, little or no need for persistent disk storage at all. That prospect and the resulting revenue benefits are sustaining the various NAND successor research and development efforts mentioned above. ®

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