IBM, TDK exploring MRAM

August 20, 2007 – IBM Corp. and TDK Corp. have formed a joint R&D program to develop high-capacity MRAM (magnetic random-access memory) technology utilizing “spin momentum transfer effect” to create memory devices with a much more compact memory cell than current approaches.

The pair aim to develop a high-density, high-capacity MRAM IC for either standalone or embedded memory, combining IBM’s MRAM memory technology expertise and R&D into magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) and spin momentum transfer effects, with TDK’s applied know-how of magnetic materials and MTJ in its recording heads in hard disk drives.

Research will be done at several US facilities: IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA, and ASIC design center in Burlington, VT; and TDK’s subsidiary R&D center in Milpitas, CA. The Nikkei daily reports that the two will look to develop a 65nm-based MRAM device within four years.

MRAM promises to be faster with less power usage and better reliability and inherent non-volatility vs. other memory technologies, but market adoption of MRAM has been limited due to manufacturing efficiencies and costs, the companies explained, in a statement. Spin momentum transfer technology, however, helps to “significantly reduce cell size and thereby increase capacity cost-effectively.”

The two are not alone in exploring MRAM — Freescale has already fabbed a MRAM device (using a 0.18-micron six-metal process), in which the bit state is stored as relative magnetization orientation of two magnetic layers in direct contact with a tunnel barrier. Chipworks peeked inside the device to see how they did it in a recent issue of SST.

At the 2006 IEDM (Dec. 2005) Sony discussed its work with a “spin RAM” nonvolatile device, showing a 4kb memory cell using 0.18-micron process technologies with 1/20th the power needed for conventional MRAMs.


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