MRAM Gains More Steam

Fremont, Calif.-based Spin Transfer Technologies Inc. (STT) announced this week that it has delivered samples of its spin transfer torque MRAM to unidentified customers in North America and Asia.

The delivery of samples by a chip vendor to potential customers is a rather standard procedure in the semiconductor industry, and STT last year announced publicly that it would begin sampling in the first quarter of this year. However, this announcement carries some significance for several reasons.

First, MRAM, or magneto-resistive random access memory, has been in development since the 1990s. It is one of a group of several emerging technologies that have been considered candidates for next-generation memory to replace the semiconductor industry’s stalwarts such as DRAM and NAND flash, which are facing serious scaling challenges as the industry moves to smaller nodes.

MRAM has long held promise as a replacement for SRAM, DRAM and flash, but to date only one company, Everspin Technologies, has shipped working MRAM product. Everspin first started shipping MRAM when it was still part of Freescale back in 2006 and claims to have shipped more than 60 million MRAM devices. Last August, Everspin became the first vendor to announce it was sampling MRAM with perpendicular magnetic tunnel junctions (pMTJs), considered by all vendors developing MRAM to offer the best scalability, shape dependence and magnetic scalability.

STT said its samples feature 80nm pMTJs. The company has previously said it has created pMTJs as small as 20nm at its Fremont development fab, among the smallest ever reported.

Spin torque transfer MRAM's place in the cost/performance hierarchy. Source: Spin Transfer Technologies/Objective Analysis.

Spin torque transfer MRAM's place in the cost/performance hierarchy. Source: Spin Transfer Technologies/Objective Analysis.

The second thing of significance about the STT sampling announcement is that STT is a startup and one of a handful of firms developing MRAM. The delivery of samples—which STT stressed are “fully functional” —is an important proof point validating STT’s technology, which (to get deeper into the tech jargon) it refers to as orthogonal spin transfer MRAM.

“They are putting something out for other people to work with. That’s always a pretty significant thing for a company to do,” said Tom Coughlin, a veteran memory analyst and founder of consulting firm Coughlin Associates. He added that samples could “make or break” a company, depending on their performance.

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