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IDF Spring 2007: Intel unveils DRAM's successor

Intel predicts the death of DRAM and showcases what will take its place.

Chip giant Intel has unveiled "the next generation of Flash memory" which could potentially replace all types of memory in PCs.

Although devices based on the new 'phase-change' memory aren't yet in production, Intel's chief technology officer, Justin Rattner, showed a complete production-quality wafer during his opening keynote at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.

Rattner claimed the technology has been in development for 10 years and that the advantages of phase-change memory are huge.

Devices based on it will have a lifetime of over a million write cycles, an order of magnitude more than current NAND-based Flash memory which degrades after a few tens of thousands of writes; it will retain its data for at least 10 years with no power applied; and like normal RAM it's writeable at the single-bit level, unlike conventional Flash which has to be erased and written in blocks.

Rattner claimed that phase-change "literally has the potential to replace DRAM." Given that current DRAM - used as main memory in every PC - runs at speeds far in excess of what Flash can manage, that's a lofty claim indeed.

If true it means that phase-change could become the single, universal storage medium, fulfilling requirements for both fast local DRAM-type memory as well as permanent mass storage.

It raises the spectre of Intel dominating every aspect of computer architecture: CPUs, chipsets and storage.

Rattner also hinted at his frustration at the continued dominance of mechanical disk drives, saying that "hard disks are frankly too power hungry" as well as being too physically delicate.

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