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Data Storage Hardware Technology

Diamonds Used To Increase Density, Performance of Phase-Change Memory 115

Posted by timothy
from the ok-start-counting-down-to-5-years dept.
Lucas123 writes "Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have shown they can increase the density, performance and the durability of phase-change memory (PSM) by using diamonds to change the base alloy material. Instead of using the more typical method of applying heat to the alloy to change its state from amorphous to crystalline, thereby laying down bits in the material, the researchers used pressure from diamond-tipped tools. Using pressure versus heat allowed them to slow down the change in order to produce many varying states allowing more data to be stored on the alloy. 'This phase-change memory is more stable than the material used in current flash drives. It works 100 times faster and is rewritable millions of times,' said the study's lead author, Ming Xu, a doctoral student at the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. 'Within about five years, it could also be used to replace hard drives in computers and give them more memory.'"
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Diamonds Used To Increase Density, Performance of Phase-Change Memory

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  • Boring (Score:4, Insightful)

    by approachingZero (1365381) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @06:46PM (#39904763) Homepage
    Seriously. Who didn't already suspect diamonds would increase the performance of phase change memory?
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      "Five years", eh...?

      I'd better start planning my migration then. Not.

  • by Frans Faase (648933) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:10PM (#39904841) Homepage
    I noticed that all the authors are Chinese. You would almost get the impression that research (in hard sciences) in the USA has been taken over by Chinese.
    • Well, when you've got a billion and a third people, a history of oppressing intellectuals, and a (relatively) immigration-friendly neighbor, these things happen.

      • by goruka (1721094) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:28PM (#39904909)
        US is not immigration friendly, not even relatively:
        http://usvisa-info.com/en-MX/selfservice/us_immigrant_visas [usvisa-info.com]

        Most Chinese students are actually on student visas. They usually get a 1yr extension for work, and from there they go to H1B if hired somewhere, and Green Card if they really want to stay, but that costs a lot to a company so it must be really worth it.
        The question is, do most of the Chinese students stay in the US? or do they go back to China and work there?
        If this means something: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/mar/28/china-us-publisher-scientific-papers [guardian.co.uk] , I don't think most are staying.
        • by Luckyo (1726890) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:38PM (#39904941)

          Why would you want to stay in a country that is fairly hostile to the way you look, has a very different culture and set of basic values and generally tends to villify your culture and homeland?

          US used to be a place where migrants could actually feel welcome but those times are firmly in the past.

        • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Saturday May 05, 2012 @09:13PM (#39905385)

          The U.S. population is about 13% foreign-born, which is pretty high. Lower than Canada (19%), but higher than most other countries. For example, only 9% of the UK population is foreign-born, 4% of the Italian population, 2% of the Japanese population, and... 0.3% of the Chinese population.

          It's not necessarily actually easy to get into the U.S., but overall, a lot of people do so anyway. And unlike many other countries, the U.S. has automatic citizenship from birth, which means any offspring of the foreign-born population (a full 1/8 of the country!) are automatically citizens, which is a much friendlier path to citizenship than most countries have.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            There's also the fact that the the US is not the most desirable place in the world right now. It's better than South America, Africa and most of Asia (including China,) but the current economic conditions makes it difficult to predict the next 3 years. Canada is easier to get into than the US, but it's a huge pain in the ass to play the waiting game, Canada or US.

            If the US elects a republican, then prepare to see more regressive tax policies and further erosion of social safety nets. If the US re-elects Oba

      • 1,000,000,000.33 people

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I sure am glad not to be a third of a person.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:26PM (#39904901)

      Discounting the fact that simply because the researchers are not named "John" and "Sally" they must not be American... Contemporary American society does not value education in general and have no respect for science, engineering and R&D. Accordingly we are producing less scientists and engineers. We are investing less into long term R&D on both the public and private sector which further depresses the draw of talent into the fields.

      So, I would expect this trend to continue until businesses can stop looking at the next quarter and start looking 10-20+ years down the road. The federal government on the other hand needs to realize that funding blue sky research brings us things like the Internet and we could use more of that too...

      In closing we are pretty much hosed as long as we value reality tv, athletics and wealth more than discovery, knowledge and the common good.

      Good luck!
      - anon

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Nope, they just steal it.

  • by notcreative (623238) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:11PM (#39904843) Journal
    The Diamond Age begins.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Diamond Age in the title of Stephenson's book means that diamond has become a common building material, used whenever you need something durable or transparent. In the book it was accomplished by nanotechnology, i.e. building diamond structures at the atomic level from a supply of carbon atoms. We are nowhere near there yet - metals, plastics and composites are still much cheaper and more plentiful than industrial diamonds.

    • by Sfing_ter (99478)

      Damned Vickys are so tedious...

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:26PM (#39904903)

    Great work, guys! Now, do you have a suggestion on how to put several trillion tiny diamond presses inside my SSD "within about five years"? [xkcd.com]

    • Except the diamonds are used during the manufacturing process to lay down the bits, not during usage when changing the bit values. It's kind of hard to imagine moving the tiny presses up and down 100 times faster than current speeds...
      • by HiThere (15173)

        That depends on how big they are. Micro-scale machinery (MEMS, but I can't remember what the acronym stands for) might be quite plausible for that. You'd need a really small stepper motor to apply the pressure, and another to do the fine positioning, and a more normal one to do the rough positioning....

        Well, maybe not. But I bet we get useful MEMS before we get useful non-chemical nano-tech.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Yeah I wouldn't be ready to hold my breath yet. anybody remember how many times we've been told 200Gb+ Holodiscs would be as cheap as DVDs and just as common? Still don't see any Holodiscs at the Walmart.

      The big problem all these new tech seem to run into isn't actually getting these things to work, its getting it to work at a price that would be affordable. After all who would want this stuff if it ends up costing as much as a Mb of RAM cost in 1981?

  • Hopefully the increased demand will cause a significant upturn in the number of diamond manufacturers lending wider spread knowledge of the true value (much lower than popularly believed) of diamonds.
    • Being pressure operated, what the memory stores will last until the first serious mechanical shock.

      ;) A pity really... I now must replace the thermite charge around my harddisks with a high velocity explosive.

    • by Surt (22457)

      Like pretty much everything else, the value of diamonds is what the market says it is. Gold, for example, is grossly overpriced considering that Osmium can be had for about a third the price, and requires the addition of only 6 atoms to transform to Gold. Given a relatively trivial breakthrough in technology the price of gold will drop 2/3rds in a day.

      • er, electrons?
        • Protons.
        • by Surt (22457)

          I was thinking deuterium atoms. I hadn't looked up the neutron counts, though. Stable gold is 79P 118N, Osmium is 76P, and abundant in 112N-114N. So presumably you'd take 114N, and look to add 3P, 4N, so call that 2 deuterium and 1 tritium.

      • by alannon (54117)
        Even assuming that bulk transmutation of elements is a "trivial breakthrough", Osmium is actually much less abundant than gold (citation [wikipedia.org]). You're right that the value is what the market says it is, but wrong in thinking that being able to turn one into the other would cause the price of gold to plummet. Osmium is simply not as _useful_ of an element compared to gold, regardless of its rarity.
        • by Surt (22457)

          A good point. I'll gladly switch to converting tungsten then, about 1000 times more common, and a factor of 10 cheaper than Osmium. Only requires adding two more atoms.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Gold is not even grossly overpriced. Consider that all the gold ever mined in the history of earth would fill only 3 olympic swimming pools, then compare that to most other metals out there. This is why gold is recycled to an anally scrutinizing degree compared to other metals. Jewelers send in their sweeps (dust off the floor under their workbenches) for gold recovery and money. I have heard a story of a jeweler sending in his RUG to a refinery and getting about 15 thousand due to the amount of gold du

        • by Surt (22457)

          That actually supports my point. It's grossly overpriced based on an economic premise (rarity) which is easily falsified with a minor improvement in technology.

          • by HiThere (15173)

            Yes, but you have the wrong minor improvement.

            Sea water contains enough Uranium to power desalinization and (probably) separation of the residue into separate elements. But the power is probably worth more than the elements recovered (except for a few, like Bromine) so even when it becomes possible it won't be done unless the price becomes considerably higher.

            Adding neutrons to atoms is likely to ALWAYS be a more expensive approach, even when it becomes easier than it currently is. And the main real value

            • by Surt (22457)

              I certainly agree that there are any number of technologies on the horizon which could dramatically disrupt the price of gold.

      • World Os production: 1 ton.
        World Au production: 2400 tons.
        I think it's going to take more than a relatively trivial breakthrough in technology. Maybe if we get hit by a really big asteroid...
        • by Surt (22457)

          Yeah, someone else pointed out that Os is cheap because it's useless. I substitute tungsten (60,000 tons) as my proposed cheap starter material.

  • Replaces HDD? Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tomhath (637240) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @07:38PM (#39904933)
    How many times over the years have we heard that claim? Does anyone remember "bubble memory"? Is was going to replace magnetic media. Optical drives were going to replace magnetic media. SSD were going to replace magnetic media. Now diamonds? Okay. But until then, get off my lawn.
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @08:01PM (#39905027) Journal

      Does anyone remember "bubble memory"? Is was going to replace magnetic media. Optical drives were going to replace magnetic media. SSD were going to replace magnetic media.

      One out of three isn't bad. Okay, so SSDs haven't completely replaced magnetic media, but in some contexts, they have. Nobody carries around floppies these days, and laptops are clearly heading in that direction, too.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Actually I'm personally not so sure about SSDs when you consider they seem to work on the hot/crazy scale [codinghorror.com]. Now sure they may figure out and fix the problems or they could just as easily have a real nasty bug show up like the infamous Jaz Drive "Click Of Death" and scare off the public. I know that after I had a couple of my gamer customers buy really nice SSDs and both failed in less than a year and a half I personally will be staying away from SSDs for at least another year. Sure hard drives fail but they

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          If the BIOS doesn't recognize them then that's a controller failure, not the flash memory.

          Maybe you should stop trying to buy the absolute cheapest SSD possible, I"m pretty sure you wouldn't apply that sort of philosophy to other things in life.

          • by hairyfeet (841228)
            Did you miss the "Gamer customers" part? One bought top o' the line OCZ and the other Intel. Both drives were replaced but that didn't help the data none. Nice to see there are still plenty of loonies that treat tech like ballclubs and automatically assume "Ur doin it wrong" because God Forbid their God may be false. All Hail The One True God!
      • Does anyone remember "bubble memory"? Is was going to replace magnetic media. Optical drives were going to replace magnetic media. SSD were going to replace magnetic media.

        One out of three isn't bad. Okay, so SSDs haven't completely replaced magnetic media, but in some contexts, they have. Nobody carries around floppies these days, and laptops are clearly heading in that direction, too.

        So you're saying that soon people will not carry around laptops either? :-)

    • by bmo (77928) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @09:20PM (#39905411)

      >Does anyone remember "bubble memory"? Is was going to replace magnetic media

      No, it wasn't. It was going to replace transistor RAM. In some specialized cases it did but it was expensive. It had a density much greater than TTL RAM but slow, but it had the advantage of being non-volatile.

      >Optical drives were going to replace magnetic media.

      But they did, for much of removable magnetic media. When was the last time you installed software with floppies? When is the last time you saw someone back things up to floppies? While tape is the gold standard, it's far too expensive for joe-consumer to even consider.

      >SSD were going to replace magnetic media.

      They have replaced magnetic media all over. What the hell are you talking about? They are spectacular for system drives on desktop computers and netbooks.

      >get off your lawn

      I remember when talking to a computer meant sitting at a paper TTY and banging out on the keyboard, and stacks of cards.

      Get off mine.

      --
      BMO

      • by Anonymous Coward

        His UID is much lower than yours. I think his lawn wins...

      • To be fair, SSD is only starting to replace magnetic media. It's still too expensive and too small for general purpose use.
        • by bmo (77928)

          That's why you use it for a system drive.

          You don't store movies and such on it. You have a 2TB external drive for that if you've got an ultraportable or net-top. And heck, at that point, you just buy 5200RPM "green" drives because they're cheaper.

          And that way, if you don't feel like lugging around the external drive, you can leave it at home plugged into the server and stream from it over the net.

          --
          BMO

  • I think this is completely untrue. AFAIK the phase-change material in rewritable optical media is one of several organic dyes, which is largely why there have been issues with rewritable media shelf life and degradation. Assuming I'm right and the author of the linked CW article got that factoid wrong, what else did he get wrong? There seems to be a logical disconnect between any technique requiring pressure from "diamond-tipped tools" to manipulate PSM and promises that it's "100 times faster" and will

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, it is write-once optical media that uses organic dyes, whereas rewritable media (cd-rw, dvd-rw, dvd-ram, etc...) use a phase change metallic alloy. However, I agree with all of your other points about the article.

      • by macraig (621737)

        I checked my recollection finally, and I stand corrected on that point. I'm still suspicious of the CW article, regardless.

  • How does it compete with IBM's racetrack memory for speed and durability?

  • Why is it always 5 years, when 20 are realistic and "never" is also a quite real option?

    • by Surt (22457)

      It's five years because that creates a sense of urgency for angel investors to get in on the ground floor.

  • "Within five years..." - maybe sometime within my life time

    "In ten years..." - it's theoretically not unpossible.

    Not to degrade research works, but let's get realistic about estimates, eh? You're scientists, you know, not Wall St. hustlers.

  • 'Within about five years, it could also be used to replace hard drives in computers and give them more memory.'

    Oh great, now my backups will take even longer. I hope network speeds get better by then.

  • This study brought to you by the DeBeers cartel... Where we artificially inflate the value of a diamond to $5000, when based on supply and demand, it would be worth about $85... Monopolies, or oligopolies in the form of cartels are not so good for consumers... I want to form a toilet paper cartel...
    • DeBeers hasn't been as strong in a while, ever since Russian diamonds entered the market, and didn't want to play by cartel rules.
  • So now I'll have "blood" hard drives whose innards come from a lump of carbon, mined by wage slaves in Angola? Like I need more guilt.


    Plus one geek cred to anyone who knows the quote sans marks :D
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @11:50PM (#39905907)

    This is a fairly standard alloy for PC memory. These are common in next gen memory--look up ovonyx, or current Samsung NOR for a similar technology. And to be fair, most people in the memory industry do think that some sort of FeRAM or ReRAM or PCRAM will be important in 5 years, as a different leg in the memory heirarchy.

    In any case, the point of this research was to use diamonds to take a look at the pressure/temperature phase diagram of the alloy. There is no intent or interest in making the material with diamond. Instead, knowing that you can get performance by going to another phase (which isn't simply accessable with tuning temperatures), you can
    1) Change out the layer you are growing on
    2) Add a stressor layer (Si3N4 is common) and temperature cycle.
    3) Do some sort of tricky flash anneal to recrystalize
    4) Add a quaternary alloy to improve the phase space.

    In short, there will never be diamond involved, unless there is a C stress layer (unlikely).

    This is all pretty standard stuff. THe diamond portion is a side note--that is how they applied test pressures. Practical devices may come out of this based on alterations of other sorts

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