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Everspin Launches Non-Volatile MRAM That's 500 Times Faster Than NAND 119

Posted by Soulskill
from the 500-times?-that's-almost-600-times! dept.
MrSeb writes "Alternative memory standards have been kicking around for decades as researchers have struggled to find the hypothetical holy grail — a non-volatile, low-latency, low-cost product that could scale from hard drives to conventional RAM. NAND flash has become the high-speed, non-volatile darling of the storage industry, but if you follow the evolution of the standard, you'll know that NAND is far from perfect. The total number of read/write cycles and data duration if the drive isn't kept powered are both significant problems as process shrinks continue scaling downward. Thus far, this holy grail remains elusive, but a practical MRAM (Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory) solution took a step towards fruition this week. Everspin has announced that it's shipping the first 64Mb ST-MRAM in a DDR3-compatible module. These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM, promising an overall 500x performance increase over conventional NAND."
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Everspin Launches Non-Volatile MRAM That's 500 Times Faster Than NAND

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  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:12PM (#41985383) Homepage Journal

    non-volatile, low-latency, low-cost

    AGoodThing, AnotherGoodThing, YetAnotherGoodThing, pick any two.

    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      I'm hoping the density of memristors, being speculated at an order of magnitude better than flash, will lend themselves to low cost. They already have the other two. This is why technologies like this are speculated at becoming a "universal" memory. It's all hope and dreams at this point. I'm sure lots of people at one point and time would have not believed for a moment that flash could ever become a consumer harddrive.

      • by AaronLS (1804210)

        As possible speculative circumstantial evidence of this, HP is delaying memeristors due to concern that it would cannibalize their partner's flash business. I think that's a bad move anyhow. They should take the opportunity to be ahead of the game for awhile with an exclusive product, and charge a premium for it. The extra premium would offset losses of flash sales(which really would not be much because there's a good chance the Joe Shmoe was going to by a competitor's flash anyway).

        • Or you know, just get ahead of the game with the superior product, undercut the market and take over.

          Everyone wants solid-state mass storage on a large scale, and the market flocks to the lowest cost-per-gigabyte.

    • by sgt scrub (869860)

      I guess non-volatile could be found as a negative. eg. It can be a security problem waiting to happen.

      • by LUH 3418 (1429407)
        We already have that issue with hard drives. Not everyone is worried about their RAM being stolen from a running machine. If that's somehow a worry though, perhaps a small system could be installed on the RAM sticks so that they erase themselves if they're taken out!
  • Cache for SSDs? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:55PM (#41985831) Homepage

    It has much higher performance flash and persistence but at a big cost in size, power and money. I think this sounds like good case for using it as write cache for SSDs that you don't need to flush. Imagine for example a log file that's very volatile, a line gets written every few seconds. Or that document or spreadsheet or email you're working on that Office auto-saves all the time or game autosaves for that matter. With this you could commit it to MRAM and it'd be written "for real" even in case of power failure with no supercap to flush to NAND without wasting write cycles on it. They say a 50:1 cost compared to NAND so on a 256 GB SSD a 512 MB cache should add ~10% to the cost.

    If you only need to push the most stale writes to NAND you could download a 50MB installer, install it using 100MB writes then delete the installer and it'd never need to touch the NAND at all - it's marked free again before it's ever written to disk once. Oh yes and you'd also get better burst IOPS as a bonus. If it really can't be worn out like RAM that is going to be huge, even if it just comes on top of the technology we already have and doesn't replace anything. After all, most of my SSD is the same from day to day - the "active set" that gets written to is much smaller.

    • by robi5 (1261542)

      Yes, they have said as much in their press release: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/everspin-debuts-first-spin-torque-140000887.html [yahoo.com]

    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      Are we going to have hybrid HDD's with an SSD and then MRAM and then the usual volatile cache?

      Actually MRAM, if fast enough to replace traditional caches on RAID cards and Hard drives, could(barring other complications) eliminate many of the problems where you lose power or some other failure occurs and causes incomplete writes that hadn't been flushed from cache. It would hold the cache and could complete the operation when the system recovers.

      • by AaronLS (1804210)

        This would make it's low density less of an issue perhaps.

      • by smash (1351)

        I'd count on it. People's appetite for storage is not going away, and SSD pricing isn't coming down fast enough. Due to the way most data access patterns work, making ALL of your storage super fast (be it cpu registers, cpu cache, RAM, etc) is far more expensive than it needs to be to get 90% of the performance.

        I see this as being used for NAND based SSD write cache, and the SSD being used for cache of spinning disks in the interim, and MRAM eventually replacing NAND entirely if they can get the densit

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      A big capacitor would be cheaper. Just use ordinary DRAM as a cache, flush it to NAND when the power goes off using the juice left in your capacitor. Some RAID cards already support it, and I seem to recall someone makes DDR2 based RAM drives that have batteries that allow them to save their contents to CF card after the machine turns off.

    • So, it sounds like these could be immediately deployed for an ext* external journal or ZFS zil/log device.

      Pretty sweet, now somebody just give me a barebones PCIe card with DDR3 slots and a linux block device driver.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:05PM (#41985917) Homepage

    Everspin has announced that it's shipping the first 64Mb ST-MRAM in a DDR3-compatible module. These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM, promising an overall 500x performance increase over conventional NAND.

    Wait, so, is this to replace RAM (the mention of DDR3) or to replace drive storage?

    These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM

    Isn't that comparing apples (DDR3) and oranges (flash RAM)?

    • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:24PM (#41986129) Homepage

      It can actually replace both, which is pretty interesting and might change how our current computing model is built.

      There are already applications and systems in place to model the data storage like this, for example memory-mapped file I/O, where you basically tell the operating system that "please let me pretend that this huge file on the hard drive is already in RAM", and let the RAM be some sort of huge cache. The same model would apply to storage here, except we would get rid of the whole RAM layer between storage and CPU.

      • So we are back to Core Memory.

      • by swb (14022)

        To me that seems like the Holy Grail of storage, a universal high capacity, high speed storage medium that is disk AND RAM in the conventional model at the same time.

        Even if it was slower than current RAM (up to a point, at least), eliminating paging as an entire concept and eliminating disk/ram/cpu/ram/disk cycle ought to make it overall faster.

        And it would be really cool if it was as modular as storage is now, allowing you to tack on an additional "disk drive" whenever you wanted, although it would requir

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      It's a technology that fits between them.

      It's faster than Flash, but not as high-capacity as DRAM (and it's probably a bit slower than DRAM as well). Just like Flash-based SSDs fit between DRAM and hard drives.

      Right now, it uses the interface of DRAM. They could probably have shoved it in a PCIe or even a SATA interface, but it was more logical to use the fastest possible.

      Overall, I'm not sure where it's headed. If they can't get density up, it's doomed to niche uses, like embedded hardware. Maybe replace b

    • by slew (2918) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:42PM (#41986295)

      Everspin has announced that it's shipping the first 64Mb ST-MRAM in a DDR3-compatible module. These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM, promising an overall 500x performance increase over conventional NAND.

      Wait, so, is this to replace RAM (the mention of DDR3) or to replace drive storage?

      MRAM might be a potential candidate to replace current solid state storage (NAND-flash) which is a candiate to replace drive storage. In a system with small amounts of DRAM, MRAM might be used to replace the DRAM as well. Unfortunatly, because of its current high price and low density, it is currently not very good substitute for either one except in perhaps a very small embedded system.

      These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM

      Isn't that comparing apples (DDR3) and oranges (flash RAM)?

      Instead of implementing the slow standard flash memory electrical interface on MRAMs, they (everspin) elected to support the same fast electrical interface that DRAMs use (DDR3). They can do this because just like DRAM, writing data on MRAMs is about as quick as reading data (which isn't the case with NAND-flash). By choosing the standarized DDR3 interface, chips that might want to use these MRAMs won't have to be specially designed to do so (which wouldn't be the case if they came up with a non-standard interface). It will apparantly just look like a small capacity DRAM chip that doesn't forget when you take the power away (I'm guessing the MRAMs probably also ignore any refresh requests that come across the interface).

      The reason that current flash memory electrical interfaces are slow, is that flash memories have pretty slow access times and are read/written in large blocks. This led to an efficient interface that multiplexes the address and data on the same pins. DRAM is however more randomly accessed in smaller blocks and has separate address and data pins. This allows a higher duty cycle of data transfer on the data pins for smaller transactions: you don't have to constantly turn the bus around between sending commands and reading data, and you can pipeline new addresses on the address bus at the same time data from older commands are transfered on the data bus.

      By targetting the DRAM interface, it appears that Everspin is positioning their chip as a DRAM+Flash replacement for systems that don't require much total storage. They need to target the DRAM interface for this because you can't really do random access efficiently on the flash interfaces (but you can do block transactions on a random access interface). In fact in many embedded systems, the first action of the bootstrap code is to copy parts of the NAND into DRAM (for fast access). With MRAM, you could just bypass this step.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        If they can get the price down significantly, I could see this implemented in things like settop boxes and home based networking equipment.

        I could also see it being used intelligently on a bootable network card. (Card has say, a 128mb mram capacity. That's enough for a very robust preboot environment, as well as an actual internal boot image, an MD5 hash cache, and all the software it needs to make sure network and local images match. Basically, the card boots the internal preboot env, then MD5s its local i

  • by Dunge (922521)
    There's no mention of any price range
    • by Amouth (879122)

      50 per GB

      http://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Flash-vs-MRAM-performance.jpg [extremetech.com]

      Gauging from that comparison image i'd assume it is 50$ per GB as they are comparing it to 1$ per GB NAND which is upper consumer market price right now.

      RTFA? :)

      • by AaronLS (1804210)

        Yes, the quote I saw was "The company said the first chips were about 50 times the cost of flash memory by size".

        As I had guessed previously, they are touting it as an SSD cache as one potential application. So for an extra $25 maybe you get 512mb cache on your SSD, and hopefully protects you from lost write buffers during a power loss since it's non-volatile. That last bit is speculation though, it could be more complicated.

  • by gotfork (1395155) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:36PM (#41986241) Homepage
    Everspin previously used the crossed-lines writing technique (shown here http://thefutureofthings.com/upload/image/articles/2006/mram/mram-write.jpg [thefutureofthings.com]), but has now switched to spin-transfer torque based devices. Several other companies are also working on this, so things to improve rapidly. PR release at (http://www.engadget.com/2012/11/14/everspin-throws-first-st-mram-chips-down/)
  • 500 times faster and 1000 times smaller and this should have a title even mentioning NAND because why?

    It would be like going "New SRAM just produced is much faster than DRAM!!!!" without bothering to mention those minor issues of size, cost, power, etc that make SRAM != DRAM.

  • by LoRdTAW (99712)

    What happened to PCM otherwise known as Phase Change Memory or PRAM [wikipedia.org]? From what I have read it can be written to like normal memory, address by address unlike flash that is block by block (very important for write speeds). It also boasts faster read and write times as well as one hundred million plus write cycles per memory location vs. flash is what, five thousand. PCM has a memory retention of 300+ years which makes it attractive for long term archival. It is also in production and shipping but density and

The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.

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