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Flash Memory Summit: Messages For OEMs And SoC Designers

Comments(0)Filed under: Industry Insights, Micron, memory, DRAM, NAND, flash, MRAM, PCM, SSD, flash memory, STT-RAM

You didn't have to be a memory expert to come away with some key insights from last week's Flash Memory Summit. The conference had some important messages for anyone designing systems-on-chip, or for that matter any kind of electronic product that has a memory subsystem.

The conference was a three-day event, and Denali Software, now part of Cadence, was a platinum sponsor. The following report is drawn from a plenary session, two keynotes, and an analyst panel that took place Thursday. In a blog posting yesterday, I wrote about an entertaining keynote given by Steve Wozniak.

Here are some key takeaways for OEMs and SoC designers:

1. Memory may be the most important part of your system. Ed Doller, chief memory systems architect at Micron Technology, noted in a keynote that most consumers today care more about Gigabytes than Gigahertz. This is because of insatiable consumer demand for increasingly sophisticated applications. Doller said that a 500 Gbyte solid state drive (SSD) for mobile devices is a possibility by the middle of the decade, but he reminded listeners that it can "only" hold 40 to 50 Blu-ray movies.

2. You have to understand the end-user applications to choose a memory subsystem. Different types of applications have different memory needs, and the list of available memory technologies will grow over the next few years. Doller said: "It is absolutely critical to understand usage conditions. If we understand the end application and understand the technology capability, I'm pretty sure we can build the lowest cost solution out there." This is very consistent with the EDA360 message.

3. Deep collaboration between OEMs and memory provides is becoming crucial. This follows from the second point. "For OEMs, the key message is that we need close collaboration," Doller said. "Make sure you help us figure out what types of applications these [memory] technologies are going into."

4. Existing memory technologies are running into limits. Analysts noted that NAND flash will surpass DRAM as the leading memory technology, but at the "Life Beyond Flash" plenary session, speakers noted that NAND flash doesn't scale well with new geometries. Performance, power, reliability, and/or endurance can fall short of system needs. "Memory performance is becoming a key bottleneck for system performance, and none of the existing technologies can really deliver that performance that's needed," said Farhad Tabrizi, CEO of STT-RAM provider Grandis.

5. It's time to stop counting electrons. Alan Fitzgerald, CTO of Smart Modular Technologies, noted that current memory technologies use electron-based storage cells, while likely NAND and DRAM replacements "measure resistance through a substrate that's been altered." The most-frequently mentioned new technologies in the plenary session were phase-charge memory (PCM), magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM), and spin torque transfer RAM (STT-RAM).

6. New memory technologies will change system architecture. Many existing memory architectures include both NAND and DRAM, and require data to be moved between the two. PCM and STT-RAM both promise to replace DRAM (initially) and possibly NAND flash (down the road). Mark Greenberg, product marketing manager at Cadence, noted that PCM is already replacing DRAM in some applications. PCM cost needs to drop to take on NAND flash.

Likewise, Tabrizi said that Grandis STT-RAM will aim to replace DRAM first, and then potentially replace NAND flash and embedded SRAM. If STT-RAM does all this, it will remove a lot of bussing, and cause a fundamental rethinking of computer architectures.

7. New memory technologies will spur the use of SSD. Solid state drives have come on more slowly than many people expected, and one problem with NAND in SSDs is that bit error rates increase at lower geometries. PCM may help by lowering bit-error rates and improving density and performance, Fitzgerald said.

8. No, the iPhone does not use SSD. Alan Niebel, analyst at Web-Feet Research, said that SSD uses a standard hard disk drive interface, which the iPhone does not. Instead, it uses embedded flash drive (EFD). Meanwhile, Jeff Janukowicz of IDC said SSD revenues were up 59% in 2009. How many industries can make that claim in such an awful year?

You can read about several other Flash Memory Summit sessions in Steve Leibson's Denali Memory Blog.

Richard Goering



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