East Fishkill, New York, and Munich, Germany–IBM and Infineon Technologies plan to jointly develop a memory technology that may significantly increase battery life of portable computing devices and lead to ‘instant-on’ computers. The chipmakers have 10 years of history successfully developing new chip technologies together.
The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate in the development of magnetic random access memory (MRAM), which uses magnetic, rather than electronic, charges to store bits of data. MRAM may improve electronic products–from computers to cell phones to game systems–by storing more information, accessing it faster, and using less battery power than the electronic memory used today, according to the companies. MRAM also retains information when power is turned off, meaning products like personal computers could start up instantly, without waiting for software to ‘boot up.’
IBM Research pioneered the development of a miniature component, known as the magnetic tunnel junction, as early 1974, adapting it as a means to store information and to build an actual working MRAM chip in 1998. Using this technology, coupled with Infineon’s expertise in creating very high density semiconductor memory, the companies believe actual MRAM products could be commercially available as soon as 2004.
“MRAM has the potential to replace today’s memory technologies in electronic products of the future,” says Bijan Davari, IBM Fellow and vice president of Technology and Emerging Products, IBM Microelectronics. “Today’s announcement represents a major step forward for MRAM, quickly moving the technology out of the pure research stage into product development.”
MRAM combines the best features of today’s common semiconductor memory technologies, according to IBM and Infineon, such as the high speed of SRAM, the storage capacity and low-cost of DRAM, and the nonvolatility of Flash memory.
Nonvolatility carries significant implications, especially for emerging computer devices. Memory technologies like DRAM and SRAM require constant electrical power to retain stored data. When power is cut off, all data in memory is lost. By using MRAM, a laptop could function more like other electronic devices such as a television or a radio–turn the power on and the machine jumps to life.
A combined workforce of approximately 80 IBM and Infineon engineers and scientists will be assisting with the project. Development work will be conducted at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York; IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California; IBM’s Microelectronics Semiconductor R&D Center in East Fishkill, New York; and IBM’s facilities in Burlington, Vermont.