New non-volatile memory promises 'instant-on' computing
Super SrTiO3 FeRAM tech to replace RAM and disks?
American boffins say they have made a significant step towards new chip technologies which could lead to faster, more durable non-volatile memory in place of RAM - and so to "instant-on" computing without boot-ups or hard disks.
The new research comes in the area of ferroelectrics, materials used today in so-called FeRAM or FRAM* - Ferroelectric Random Access Memory. FeRAM is a type of non-volatile memory used in smart cards and some portable devices. Compared to Flash, it offers many more read/write cycles before failure, much faster writing and lower power consumption.
FeRAM chips are structured much like ordinary DRAM, but use a ferroelectric material in place of the dielectric to achieve their unique features. Present-day FeRAM uses lead zirconate titanate (PZT) ferroelectric, and at present the technology suffers from low storage densities and high cost: hence its use mainly in low-capacity low-power devices requiring durability, like smartcards.
But now boffins funded by the US National Science Foundation have made a move to change that, depositing strontium titanate on silicon to achieve a new ferroelectric.
According to the NSF, this could lead to new, superior FeRAM chips able to replace both the RAM and the hard-disk or Flash storage used in most present-day computers. The FeRAM combo-memory would of course be non-volatile, unlike today's RAM, so there'd be no need to boot up or recover from hibernation after turning off the power: the machine would instantly switch on in just the same condition it had been on power-down. If the FeRAM also replaced the machine's storage, there'd never be any tiresome waiting for slow, power-hungry hard disks or Flash memory to do their stuff either.
The research was led by Darrell Schlom of Cornell Uni, with assistance from federal boffins - including some from NASA Ames - and others at Motorola and Intel.
It's not goodbye to RAM just yet, however, according to Schlom. He and his collaborators have shown that strontium-titanate components can be assembled, but there's still plenty to do.
"Several hybrid transistors have been proposed specifically with ferroelectrics in mind," said Schlom. "By creating a ferroelectric directly on silicon, we are bringing this possibility closer to realization."
*FRAM is specifically trademarked by Ramtron International.
Bunch of arse
FRAMs, trademarked or not, have always promised more than they were able to deliver. Ramtron spent years telling me that production and density problems were about to be solved, and they never were. As the nineties wore on, FRAM dwindled ever further into Flash and DRAM's rear view mirror. Now a new material, which looks like it's from the same family as PZT, which had awful deposition problems. Arse.
Expect this technology to have no impact whatsoever.
Which is probably why they went to mostly Flash storage for PalmOS 5 models like my T|X. A little more expensive, but at least it keeps data even when the battery runs down or loses charge. But flash as an all-in-one is impractical for anything beyond PDAs and embedded systems at this point--beyond a certain capacity, the costs get too exorbitant. Plus there's the issue of some apps needing fast memory (flash is notoriously slow as a memory medium).
The sound of my BBC Model B Micro booting...!
Instant-on is a myth
Can we please stop propagating the myth of "instant-on"? Even if there was no time required to read data into memory, there are still many things a system must do when it boots, and these things require processing time, not disk read time. Examples are time synchronization, network detection and activation, enabling wireless devices and detecting access points and nearby devices, etc. Would your time be considerably less than a typical cold boot from magnetic media? Sure. Would it be "instant"? Not even close.
And to all the people still going on about Windows a reboots -- quite it, would you? I'm certainly no Windows fanboi, but I've never seen always-on being a problem with XP. My systems stay on 24/7, and the only time they reboot is when I install updates or install/uninstall software, and I don't have any problems with stability; neither do the friends or family members running XP. That's not to say that nobody has those problems, but I find it hard to believe that they're as prevalent as people make them out to be (unlike, say, Win98 which did have severe stability issues when kept on 24/7).
Like PalmOS then?
From what I remember, PalmOS made no distinction between working memory and backing store, which is why PalmPilots ate batteries even when you didn't use them and you lost everything if they did run down.