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Intel Hardware Technology

Intel to Sample Flash-killer PRAM This Year 78

Station writes "Intel's new phase-change memory technology (PRAM) will begin sampling this year. Samsung, IBM, and Hitachi are all working on phase-change memory as a successor to flash as it has a lower (~20ns) read latency than flash (50-90ns). 'Intel says they plan to ship the first PRAM modules as a straight-ahead NOR flash replacement so that they can work the kinks out of the design before trying to move it up the memory hierarchy. The company claims a much higher number of read-write cycles (100 million) than flash, as well as a potential 10 years' worth of data retention. NOR flash is typically used as program storage memory for mobile devices like cell phones, while more durable but slower NAND flash is used for mass storage in devices like the iPod nano.'"
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Intel to Sample Flash-killer PRAM This Year

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:32AM (#18287508)
    Killer Pram? Won't somebody think of the children!!
    • by JamesTRexx ( 675890 ) <marcel...nystrom@@@mail...com> on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:42AM (#18287564) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, it's going to be fun to go to the store here in the Netherlands and ask for a couple of "prammen". (slang for hooters :-) )
      • by varghan ( 834564 )
        My thoughts exactly! Isn't it nice how tech-talk can sometimes sound plain dirty to people who don't know _what_ you're talking about. ;)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        In Sweden, Honda tried to introduce a car called Honda Fitta. Interestingly, "fitta" means pussy in Swedish. And not just in some far-fetched sense. It is THE word.

        H&M, a SWEDISH company, last year introduced whole line of jeans called Sliq Fit. "Slicka" in swedish means "to lick" and "Sliq" sounds a lot like it. Apparently, nobody had thought of it(!?). This was quite funny since their really embarrassed behaviour indicated that it wasn't a PR-stunt.

        Strangely, no religious group made any comments excep
      • What are "Hooters"? Aren't they "owls" ??? I don't get what's so funny.

        I jest!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Oh great, yet another "iPod killer."


    • Killer Pram? Won't somebody think of the children!!
      Flash-killer Pram at that...
      I'm visualising the 6-month-old son of Ming the Merciless trying to run over Flash Gordon in a pram.
  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:36AM (#18287522)
    one of the later steps in fixing technical glitches in mac systems is to zap the pram..

    imagine the confusion between 2 friends when one says "i zapped my pram" .. one fixes your computer, the other breaks your flash device..
    • In the UK, "pram" means a baby stroller.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Fortunately the rest of the industry is calling it PCM for Pulse-code modulation^w^wPhase-change memory.
    • one of the later steps in fixing technical glitches in mac systems is to zap the pram..

      PRAM being "parameter RAM", the nonvolatile memory used to store the Mac equivalent of BIOS settings. To "zap" it means to change all settings back to factory settings by holding Command+Option+P+R while turning on the power.

      imagine the confusion between 2 friends when one says "i zapped my pram" .. one fixes your computer, the other breaks your flash device..

      Unless Apple starts using PRAM for the PRAM, which could happen.

      • holding Command+Option+P+R while turning on the power.
        Is that four keys? As well as turning on the power? Do Mac users needing to wipe their BIOS have to grow an extra arm?
        • by ozamosi ( 615254 )
          Actually, the Mac people are all übersocial brats, and as such, they have friends. When reseting their "bios", they just invite five friends: four to hold down one key each, the fifth to press the power button, and the owner of the machine is then free to watch the monitor.
        • Is that four keys? As well as turning on the power? Do Mac users needing to wipe their BIOS have to grow an extra arm?
          No, but they would need to have a BIOS to wipe.
    • Isn't that one of the Mac repair myths? Repairing permissions and PRAM resetting are two things that are often recommended even though it usually doesn't fix anything. I haven't heard of anything that was fixed by doing either.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        The PRAM used to be used to store a lot more in the pre-OS X days. Resetting it used to actually fix a few things caused by badly behaved system extensions. These days, it's a lot like clearing the CMOS contents on a PC; unlikely to change anything unless you have been messing with firmware settings.

        • well.. i had it recently fix a fan that wouldn't shut up even after a reboot (it got stuck on max after roughly 3 months of uptime)...

          (of course it could also have been the PMU reset i did while i was at it)
          • Resetting the PMU often does fix things. I had a machine that was overheating after about an hour of use and then crashing. Resetting the PMU made it turn the fans on at the correct time and keep working.
          • by thegnu ( 557446 )
            "rhetoric": a label used by the intellectually dishonest to dismiss valid points which they are incapable of countering.

            Now, I'm no poly-tician, but that there's rhetoric, ain't it?
    • one of the later steps in fixing technical glitches in mac systems is to zap the pram..

      imagine the confusion between 2 friends when one says "i zapped my pram" .. one fixes your computer, the other breaks your flash device..
      How about the eMacs / Emacs confusion? I can't think of any other good ones off the top of my head.
  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:51AM (#18287620)
    Will it be cheaper per megabyte than current NOR flash?
    Will it mean that devices like mobile phones (or devices like the Lego Mindstorms which also stores programs/data on NOR flash) can have more memory space in them?
    • Generally speaking, cost will be similar to NOR flash, if volume manufacturing picks up, and especially if Intel, Samsung, and other biggies get into the act. The key questions to ask are reliability/life of data and speed (and power consumption, if it is drastically different). From Intel's claims, reliability (or longevity) of data looks amazing for PRAM, but speed is still an unanswered question... both read and write speeds.

      My other lay question is how Intel and others are managing this chalc* glass man
      • by tknd ( 979052 )
        How about density; can I get more or less space with the same physical size?

        Obviously I'd like to see something with more capacity than flash.
  • 3D stacking (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Kim0 ( 106623 )
    I really wish they would stack it in 3D to get humonguous memories, f.ex. like this:
    http://memory.oyhus.no/ [oyhus.no]
    • speed or latency.. (and what about heat exchange issues?)

      even with considerably slow throughput though.. it might be have useful applications in storage media..

      i'd love to replace a set of hot spinning platters with a tiny cartridge about the size of a gamecube memory card.
      • From TFA:

        I haven't been able to find any access time numbers for Intel's PRAM technology, but competing technology from Hitachi boasts a 20ns read latency. This is much better than the 50ns to 90ns read latency typical of flash memory, but it's not even close to DDR2's ~3ns latency. If Intel's PRAM is in the same ballpark as Samsung's technology, then it won't be used as the main memory on your computer anytime soon.

        Now, I'm not up on my memory archtecture, but I think that flash is not currently optimiz

      • by Kim0 ( 106623 )
        >... speed or latency.. (and what about heat exchange issues?)

        Very high speed is possible, since the surface of the chip has an awful number of wires for data to pass in parallell. It should be very fast, almost no matter how slow each memory cell is.

        Latency cannot be higher than the speed of each single memory cell, just as in flash memories. I guess there must be some kind of block transfer mode.

        As for heat, I guess that depends on the memory material. But for extreme cases, there could be cooling flui
      • by Eccles ( 932 )
        As I understand it, Vista has a system that allows you to use a flash drive as a fast paging device for small files. It sounds like something like this might be similarly useful; good for small stuff that needs fast access, while you use a hard drive to store your bigger files where access time is less of an issue.
      • by Khyber ( 864651 )
        heat exchange is how the entire design works, by applying heat to change the structure from crystalline to amorphous and back to read as 1's and 0's. Heat is a necessary factor in this, sadly. But, it is still non-volatile, and it's the same material used in re-writable optical discs, it's not as fast as a hard drive but there's no chance of mechanical failure. This technology looks very promising, and if it comes thru, it'll kick Flash's ass to hell and back.

        http://www.ovonyx.com/tech_html.html [ovonyx.com] Link to th
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by proxy318 ( 944196 )
      3D stacking is so yesterday. I want RAM that's stacked in 4D, so I can get tomorrow's lottery numbers today.
  • by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @09:13AM (#18287768) Journal
    Do they like to push it a lot?
  • Flash is now fairly cheap, it's in widespread use and it's a known quantity. Good luck trying to replace it.
    • If their designs are pin compatible, good luck not not replacing it.

      Let's see faster, more durable, *and* drop in compatible? Short of insane license requirements I can't see it being a no sale.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If the erase cycle figure is correct and price is similar to NOR flash, I, and other embedded designers would switch in a heartbeat.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by squizzar ( 1031726 )
      So were 5.25", 3.5" floppies, zip disks, cd-rw, dvd-rw etc. If the cost is right and the benefits are great enough it will be adopted. If they package it in similar formats to that flash currently uses (eg. usb sticks, sd cards) for portable storage, and stick a SATA interface on it for internal (or even bulk external) storage, it will be adopted without most people noticing it's something new.
      • Exactly. Like the difference between NiCad and NiMH rechargeable batteries.

        These new-fangled ones sure do last longer! Very few people care why.

    • ***Flash is now fairly cheap, it's in widespread use and it's a known quantity. Good luck trying to replace it.***

      According to the article, this PRAM stuff can be configured to be flash compatible. IF it works out -- big IF, most of these wonders don't -- it might turn out to be a faster, drop in, replacement for flash.. If so, and if it isn't significantly more expensive than flash,it wouldn't be suprising to see PRAM replace flash in new products over the period of a few years.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Intel and other manufacturers HAVE to replace it as it's becoming exceedingly more difficult to scale ETOX processes down, especially in producing a multi-level cell product, which is where Intel's NOR flash generates the majority of its revenue. At the 65-nm node, the floating gate holds only a few hundred electrons. Phase change memory will allow Intel to scale NOR flash to 45nm and below.
    • Flash is now fairly cheap, it's in widespread use and it's a known quantity. Good luck trying to replace it.

      I remember not too long ago when floppy disks were fairly cheap, in widespread use, and a known quantity, too.

      Yet, they seem to have been largely replaced by (depending on the application) flash devices, network transfer, and optical disks.

      And replacing flash with PRAM will be a lot more transparent to users, so if its got performance advantages, it will replace flash much more easily.

    • like 5 1/4" floppies
    • by Khyber ( 864651 )
      http://www.ovonyx.com/tech_html.html [ovonyx.com] Read up on the technology. Flash is limited by write/read cycles. This technology uses pre-existing fabrication techniques. It doesn't deviate much at all from the standard CMOS design. It's less power-hungry, still non-volatile, and can be used in ANY current flash-based device (as you can easily pin-out it to any particular flavor card's spec)
  • Only 10 years? Are these things going to have a rejuvenate button?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Customer: (goes to door, runs his finger down the list of adverts) Pram for sale. Any offers. I'd like a bit of pram please.

    Shopkeeper: Ah yes, sir. That's in good condition.

    Customer: Oh good, I like them in good condition, eh? Eh?

  • I hope this doesn't kill ATMEL, I really like their AVR microcontrollers. That would be sad.
  • The article mentions that the period for data retention is 10 years with PRAM, which seems to be about the same as what's claimed for writable discs (the ones with organic dye.) I was under the impression that flash memory could retain data for a longer period of time? How long can flash memory hold data until it mysteriously disappears?
  • [cue operatic voice]
    I get to push the pramalot...?
  • Never liked flash anyway
    what ? you say it's memory?
    OH, nevermind
  • First it is the jpeg killer and now it is FLASH killer. Any use of the term "killer" in a headline is a joke. Ok so Intel introduces PRAM, but at what price point? Flash is surly going to drop in price. For any *real-life* application - does it really matter? Probably not. So is a manufacture going to choose a lower priced Flash memory chip or a new and more expensive PRAM memory chip? It speed was the only concern everyone would be attaching serial attached SCSI hard drive to their computers. The g
  • A couple of points. 1) Phase Change memory chips are already commercially available from BAE. One of the advantages of PCM not mentioned in the Intel announcement is radiation tolerance. BAE has been selling PCM for space applications since last summer. Rumor is they cannot keep up with demand. See: http://www.baesystems.com/Newsroom/NewsReleases/20 06/autoGen_10703020214.html [baesystems.com] 2) All of the memory manufacturers are licensing the basic tech from Energy Conversion Devices. It all derives from Stan Ovshi
  • I've been waiting for this to finally come out, as noted in some of my other slashdot comments. Not onyl does this have better latency, but the write/read cycles are exponentially larger, in the trillions range, cmopared to maybe 250,000-500,000 of Flash. Perfect for making storage drives with, and it's small, uses mostly pre-existing fabrication techniques, and once production ramps up it'll be CHEAP!

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