PRAM is a non-volatile memory type that can be used to replace flash memory and, perhaps DRAM too.
Unlike DRAM, non-volatile memory like flash can store memory when a device's power is turned off, but flash memory chips write and read data more slowly than DRAM, have less capacity, and are also more expensive. "We're thinking phase change is looking promising and we're going to go into production with that part in the second half of the year," said Rattner.
PRAM is based on chalcogenide glass, which can be altered using the heat generated by an electric current. Heat changes the physical structure of the glass to either a crystalline or amorphous state. Each of these states has a distinct electrical resistance that is used to represent the ones and zeroes needed to represent stored data in binary terms.
PRAM looks set to offer better read-write speed and durability than flash memory, which works by trapping electrons in a memory cell. Over time, electrons inevitably become trapped in these cells and can no longer be removed, rendering the memory chip useless.
"It's not clear there's actually a wear out mechanism because you're just moving this material, chalcogenide, between phase states," Rattner said. "Inherently, that's not a destructive process."
Intel and other companies are counting on PRAM to replace both NOR and NAND flash memory to generate the demand required to produce the new memory chips in volume, and drive down costs.