Numonyx, a memory joint venture between Intel and STMicroelectronics, says its shipping samples of phase change memory (PCM). The firm is planning to start commercial shipments of PCM chips later this year. This new type of memory combines the best attributes of DRAM, NOR and NAND memory and will use far less power.
"We expect to bring it to market this year and generate some revenue," Harrison said. "It is one to two years before it becomes widely commercially available."
Hearing a CEO talk about existing samples and near-term commercial shipments is a big deal for PCM. The technology has been stuck in the proverbial "a few years away" phase for a long time.
"It could be cheaper than flash within a couple of years," analyst Richard Doherty in said in 2001, predicting the technology might hit the market in 2003.
"We are making good progress," Stefan Lai, one of Intel's flash memory scientists, said in 2002.
Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and the man for whom Moore's Law was named, had an article in the September 28, 1970 issue of Electronics predicting that Ovonics Unified Memory, another name for the same type of memory, could hit the market by the end of that decade. (The same issue of Electronics also included this article: "The Big Gamble in Home Video Recorders.")
The delays have largely stemmed from two sources. First, it's not an easy technology to master. In phase change memory chips, a microscopic bit on a substrate gets heated up to between 150 degrees and 600 degrees Celsius. The substrate is made of the same stuff as CD disks. The heat melts the bit, which when cooled solidifies into one of two crystalline structures, depending on how fast the cooling takes place. The two different crystalline structures exhibit different levels of resistance to electrical current, and those levels of resistance in turn are then as ones or zeros by a computer. Data is born.
Both Intel and ST made a significant amount of progress in controlling the material in the past few years, Harrison said.