Samsung overtakes Numonyx in PRAM race
Exceedingly slow contest warms up slightly
Samsung is starting production of 512Mbit Phase-Change Memory (PRAM) giving it a lead on rival Numonyx's 128Mbit chip.
Like Numonyx, the other PRAM developer, Samsung is optimistic that PRAM will replace NOR and NAND flash in mobile phones and similar battery-powered devices when those technologies run out of steam. It reckons that mobile phone handset battery life could be extended by 20 per cent by using PRAM instead of existing flash and expects - hopes - PRAM to become one of its core product technologies in the future.
Numonyx hasn't supplied performance data for its technology, but Samsung proudly boasts that its 512Mbit PRAM die, built with 60nm process technology, can erase 64 Kilowords (KWs) in 80 milliseconds. That's more than ten times faster than NOR flash. Samsung says that its PRAM can erase and rewrite data about seven times faster than NOR, using 5MB data segments.
PRAM technology development is a slow race between Numonyx and Samsung: it's like watching tortoises trying to sprint. Samsung announced its prototype 512Mbit PRAM die three years ago. Numonyx announced an early access programme last month, having introduced its first 128Mbit PRAM chip a year previously, using 90nm technology. This came from preceding Intel PRAM activities, with Intel having said back in March 2007 that it would/could deliver its first 128Mbit PRAM chips in the first quarter of 2008.
In the event it donated its PRAM technologies to Numonyx when that firm was set up in March 2008 by Intel and STMicroelectronics.
Samsung and Numonyx are working together on common pin-for-pin PRAM die specifications, both seeing such commonality helping PRAM adoption. The two are in a slow race to get mobile handset manufacturers to test and qualify their PRAM chips.
With this announcement, Samsung looks to have leap-frogged Numonyx in both capacity and process terms. However Numonyx has said it has taped out a 1Gbit PCM die using 45nm process technology. Samsung assures people that it will shrink its process technology to develop more cost-effective dies. The PRAM technology leapfrog game is set to continue.
El Reg's guess is that we shouldn't expect any serious PRAM activity by the handset crew until 2011. If they can get their engineer's hands on cost-effective 1Gbit, 45nm PRAM dies, then they could start getting excited. ®
is it for real?
They promised before in 2007 the same thing. You never know when it's going to happen. Samsung must have tried every known memory technology just in case.
Maybe they've learned a lesson about Disruptive Technology
Perhaps Samsung and Numonyx have learned the lesson that so many hard drive manufacturers failed to learn, as detailed in Clayton Christensen'sThe Innovator's Dilemma.
Smart companies will have to realize that there is an end-of-life for a given technology, and while they still want to serve the older technology to their customers, they must also forge into the new technology or they will be beaten by smaller newcomers and then it really won't matter that they didn't supplant their previous technology because somebody else will do it and put them out of business.
another 512 Mb PRAM announcement
It doesn't make sense if they are out to kill off their own NOR flash and NAND flash products. It is just some marketing announcement. Maybe they did fab a 60 nm 512 Mb chip that behaves the way it is said, but they can't be running this through their flash fabs. I mean now that Spansion went bankrupt, there is so much more demand for Numonyx and Samsung's NOR flash, they'd be silly to throw it all away for phase change memory. Taiwan's memory companies would love Samsung and Numonyx to abandon their NOR for PRAM, now that Spansion is struggling.