New silicon memory chip developed

May 18, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The first purely silicon oxide-based 'Resistive RAM' memory chip that can operate in ambient conditions – opening up the possibility of new super-fast memory - has been developed by researchers at UCL.

Resistive RAM (or 'ReRAM') are based on materials, most often oxides of metals, whose electrical resistance changes when a voltage is applied – and they "remember" this change even when the power is turned off.

ReRAM chips promise significantly greater memory storage than current technology, such as the Flash memory used on USB sticks, and require much less energy and space.

The UCL team have developed a novel structure composed of silicon oxide, described in a recent paper in the Journal of Applied Physics, which performs the switch in resistance much more efficiently than has been previously achieved. In their material, the arrangement of the silicon atoms changes to form filaments of silicon within the solid silicon oxide, which are less resistive. The presence or absence of these filaments represents a 'switch' from one state to another.

Unlike other silicon oxide chips currently in development, the UCL chip does not require a vacuum to work, and is therefore potentially cheaper and more durable. The design also raises the possibility of transparent memory chips for use in touch screens and mobile devices.

The team have been backed by UCLB, UCL's technology transfer company, and have recently filed a patent on their device. Discussions are ongoing with a number of leading semiconductor companies.

Dr Tony Kenyon, UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: "Our ReRAM memory chips need just a thousandth of the energy and are around a hundred times faster than standard Flash memory chips. The fact that the device can operate in and has a continuously variable resistance opens up a huge range of potential applications.

"We are also working on making a quartz device with a view to developing transparent electronics."

For added flexibility, the UCL devices can also be designed to have a continuously variable resistance that depends on the last voltage that was applied. This is an important property that allows the device to mimic how neurons in the brain function. Devices that operate in this way are sometimes known as 'memristors'.

This technology is currently of enormous interest, with the first practical memristor, based on titanium dioxide, demonstrated in just 2008. The development of a silicon oxide memristor is a huge step forward because of the potential for its incorporation into silicon chips.

The team's new ReRAM technology was discovered by accident whilst engineers at UCL were working on using the material to produce silicon-based LEDs. During the course of the project, researchers noticed that their devices appeared to be unstable.

UCL PhD student, Adnan Mehonic, was asked to look specifically at the material's electrical properties. He discovered that the material wasn't unstable at all, but flipped between various conducting and non-conducting states very predictably.

Adnan Mehonic, also from the UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: "My work revealed that a material we had been looking at for some time could in fact be made into a memristor.

"The potential for this material is huge. During proof of concept development we have shown we can programme the chips using the cycle between two or more states of conductivity. We're very excited that our devices may be an important step towards new silicon memory chips"

The technology has promising applications beyond memory storage. The team are also exploring using the resistance properties of their material not just for use in memory but also as a computer processor.

Explore further: Surveillance a part of everyday life

More information: 'Resistive switching in silicon suboxide films" is published online in the Journal of Applied Physics. The paper is available for download here: jap.aip.org/resource/1/japiau/v111/i7/p074507_s1

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User comments : 16

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kaasinees
3.7 / 5 (6) May 18, 2012
The greatest of inventions are by mistake.
Terriva
1 / 5 (1) May 18, 2012
It's logical, because you cannot pass through informational singularity in deterministic way, rather by accident. If you could deduce something logically, then it wouldn't be a breakthrough in deterministic sense, but a logical consequence of previous research. Actually the memristive materials are all around us http://www.youtub...wP_qXbdA
krundoloss
2.3 / 5 (3) May 18, 2012
Sweet! Now lets get this tech to the masses and finally rid ourselves of mechanical hard drives! It is sad to have multiple CPU cores and massive amounts of RAM just to be slowed down by a mechanical hard drive that is orders of magnitude slower. Maybe we can use hard drives that are NOT the most likely thing to fail in a computer!
SincerelyTwo
4 / 5 (1) May 18, 2012
Sweet! Now lets get this tech to the masses and finally rid ourselves of mechanical hard drives! It is sad to have multiple CPU cores and massive amounts of RAM just to be slowed down by a mechanical hard drive that is orders of magnitude slower. Maybe we can use hard drives that are NOT the most likely thing to fail in a computer!


Maybe you haven't heard yet; SSD's.

http://www.newegg...name=SSD
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (3) May 18, 2012
It is sad to have multiple CPU cores and massive amounts of RAM just to be slowed down by a mechanical hard drive

Realistically you don't have any programs on your computer that use hard drives AND a lot of computing power at the same time (maybe some which use each at different times, like video editing).

If you want to have faster boot times then go for an SSD (Awesome. Just installed my first one a few weeks ago)

But yeah: mechanicals are on the way out. Apart from anything else having moving parts is just so ...victorian.
PPihkala
3 / 5 (2) May 18, 2012
This could be the ideal memory: Fast, cheap, non-volatile, small celled, low power and made with silicon processes. So this could make DRAM and Flash ROM obsolete.
canuckit
4 / 5 (1) May 18, 2012
"UCL" is the University College in London, United Kingdom.
Eikka
2 / 5 (3) May 18, 2012
So this could make DRAM and Flash ROM obsolete.


Probably not DRAM, which is still orders of magnitude faster, and definitely not SRAM which is yet faster still.
gopher65
1.4 / 5 (5) May 18, 2012
Realistically you don't have any programs on your computer that use hard drives AND a lot of computing power at the same time (maybe some which use each at different times, like video editing).

I can see you've never played an MMORPG. They use up a great deal of resources. At max settings a newer MMOG will max out most graphics cards, max out 1 core of a CPU (and use part of at least one other), load several gigs into ram, and just rip your harddrive to shreds loading new areas of the game. SSDs help, but games like this often have so many write operations that they destroy current gen SSDs like you wouldn't believe (especially games with changing scenery, deformable ground, or player built housing, since those require previously visited areas of the game that you've downloaded to be overwritten each time you visit them).
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) May 19, 2012
games like this often have so many write operations


Games like those you describe actually very rarely write anything to a hard drive. The trick is that all the stuff you can do in the game already exists, it has been computed in advance, and the only thing that changes when you e.g. build a house, is a flag that tells the game to actually draw the house.

And in online games, it's the server that keeps track of all things that happen anyways, so it's not your hard drive that gets written to.
gopher65
2.3 / 5 (3) May 19, 2012
Games like those you describe actually very rarely write anything to a hard drive.

It depends greatly on the game. Trust me, I've played a lot of them:P. Some, like the old Horizons: Empire of Istaria game, dynamically download and write new landscape sectors *every time you visit that area*. In that particular game the reason that was done was because the landscape was dynamically changeable while the server was in operation (technically, though not done in practice very often due to the unexpected server processing "lag" it created). Auto Assault used a different, though comparable, system. Lots and lots and lots of write actions. Based on real world experience, SSDs usually last less than 6 months in those conditions, compared to many years for a magnetic drive in the same situation.
alfie_null
4 / 5 (1) May 20, 2012
We are also working on making a quartz device with a view to developing transparent electronics.

The thought of having a transparent block of something that nevertheless is full of information (well, at least full of data) just sounds cool.
jackofshadows
3 / 5 (1) May 21, 2012
Perhaps now we can actually shift to operating system design and implementations that no longer must make a distinction between different tiers of (binary) storage. After that's unified then we can think about neural (similar) systems.
thematrix606
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2012
Games like those you describe actually very rarely write anything to a hard drive.

It depends greatly on the game. Trust me, I've played a lot of them:P. Some, like the old Horizons: Empire of Istaria game, dynamically download and write new landscape sectors *every time you visit that area*. In that particular game the reason that was done was because the landscape was dynamically changeable while the server was in operation (technically, though not done in practice very often due to the unexpected server processing "lag" it created). Auto Assault used a different, though comparable, system. Lots and lots and lots of write actions. Based on real world experience, SSDs usually last less than 6 months in those conditions, compared to many years for a magnetic drive in the same situation.


You are so high bro... so high.
gopher65
5 / 5 (2) May 21, 2012
K, buddy, I've been on Q&A focus groups for some of these games, and talked to the freaking developers about these very problems. What I said above isn't me talking, but merely me regurgitating the things said *by the people who coded the games in question*. So don't tell me I'm high:P.

And, as I also said, not every game is the same:P. WoW for instance, the only one most people have every played, isn't like that:P.
A_Paradox
not rated yet May 24, 2012
gopher, I'm tempted to ask if you 'have a life', but that would just be a pot calling a kettle black. I'm not into competitive multi-player games jut like I'm not into sport but I can see the immense benefits provided by both.

I mean sport is what civilised people do instead of warfare, and computer gaming provides a strong economic and social basis for preventing a military monopolisation of information technology.