Storage on PCs has long been a problem. Back in the mists of time people thought the humble 1.44MB floppy disk was a storage beast. It wasn’t long until they were fumbling through their copies of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, looking for that blasted fifth floppy to continue their adventure. Storage has grown exponentially, but no matter how much we get we always want more. That all changed over the last few years, and now we want faster and faster. SSD’s deliver the goods for a premium price, but they’re let down by short lifespans.
RRAM, or high-capacity Resistive RAM, is thought to be the future of computer memory. Off-limits to the average consumer since its conception, RRAM is now closer than ever to commercial release. Cited as a flash RAM killer, RRAM promises to have 20 times the write performance of NAND flash memory, but at a fraction of the size and drawing on a fraction of the power.
Step forward startup memory firm Crossbar, who is the closest company to bringing Resistive RAM to the market, and is expected to reveal further details during the coming months. The company’s name stems from the tech used to make RRAM, which involves sandwiching the memory cell structure into a grid-like structure of crossbar junctions. What this means is that the cells can be stacked in 3D - in practical terms cramming a heck of a lot more storage into a far smaller space. It’s super dense computer memory, and it could finally mean you can store all you wish for.
RRAM technology would represent a major leap for the non-volatile memory industry. It stores information by creating resistance rather than the traditional method of storing electrical charges. This has three knock on effects; firstly, power consumption will be massively reduced, secondly, the lack of charge means it will have a longer write life, and finally it will be capable of larger capacities, because each bit requires less space. The ever-growing SSD market is most at threat from this, crippled as it is by limited write life.
Leading researcher Crossbar claim that RRAM technology will be capable of delivering 20 times the write performance, 10 times the endurance, and up to 1TB of storage per chip. Early prototypes have put storage capacity of 1TB on an RRAM chip the size of a postage stamp, while others are operating a hundred times faster than flash memory. It seems like Apple is rapidly running out of excuses for still selling a 2GB iPod.
Changing the conductivity of the silicon requires a far smaller electric pulse than flash, and unlike RAM its state is set even after being powered-off. The low voltage is less damaging, both during manufacturing and when writing, meaning it can last up to 100 times longer than other methods.
It all sounds too good to be true of course, and the next major step will be waiting for the price to come down. SSD’s are still out of most people’s price ranges, particularly the larger sizes, so it could be a little while until we can hook these pint-sized wonders up in our gaming PCs. Crossbar looks to be at the front of this revolution, and more news is expected in the coming months. With a bit of luck the future of storage could be upon us sooner than we thought. Once it does arrive though we’re likely to see solid-stage storage jump to multiple terabytes almost instantaneously, and judging by the size of recent game downloads this can’t come soon enough.