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Feb 05

Part 2 of the Crystal Ball

A FavIcon for the Forum! Can anybody see it?

A FavIcon for the Forum! Can anybody see it on their browser?

In part 1, I gazed into the smaller company crystal ball gathering dust in my office. This time, I’ve dusted off the larger version…. In terms of the memory manufacturers, 2014 was notable for the silence from Toshiba on their ReRAM technology which contrasted to the more vocal approach of the Sony/Micron partnership on their CBRAM development. For Toshiba, I suspect they have convinced themselves that they know what they need to know at this point in time. And I suspect they have put their ReRAM on the back burner and will focus on 3D NAND products for the next few generations followed by a 3D version of ReRAM but with an architecture closer to 3D NAND that what has been published to date. Based on patent activity (see previous Blog) SanDisk/Toshiba haven’t abandoned the technology completely but I suspect far less resources are being applied than previously. So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear very little for 2 or 3 years. So that at least is safe in terms of a prediction for 2015!

I was also going to add that we had not heard much from Rambus about their ReRAM portfolio following their purchase of Unity Semiconductor and their CMOx technology. I heard rumours the focus was turning to embedded rather than stand-alone memory and was contemplating some sort of ‘predictive wisdom’ when I was beaten to it! Rambus have signed an agreement with Tezzaron who will develop ReRAM for some niche but high value products aimed at, for example, military and aerospace. Again the focus is performance, rather than cost especially for minimizing power and, interestingly, radiation hardness, so maybe that has been the focus of Rambus’ ReRAM development since the Unity purchase. Bob Patti, Tezzaron’s CTO has been quoted as saying that “the company (Tezzaron, I assume) focuses on creating devices with self-repair features for devices that can’t be easily accessed for maintenance” mentioning the Mars Rovers. I wonder if they have looked at the issue of ‘repairing’ crosspoint cell that gets stuck in a low resistance state as that can knock out a lot of neighbouring cells… First products are projected for 2016 so I’m safe for a 2015 prediction!

Sony/Micron are still (publicly, at least) sounding very bullish about their CBRAM based approach and have mentioned cache like products in the near future with major announcements such as at ISSCC 2014 and FMS. However, there is no follow-on at ISSCC this year and it is clear any such products (in the near future) will be more expensive than those based on existing technology so the performance boost will have to be compelling. There has been interesting work from various academic groups, notably Professor Ken Takeuchi’s group at Chuo University on this topic but of course, a hardware demonstration is yet to appear. And all this is predicated on the assumption that Sony/Micron can solve or have solved the problems of volume manufacturing.

The news from HP last year switched fairly dramatically to ‘The Machine’ and away from updating the roadmap for the availability of their resistive memory. HP has made a bold prediction that an early version of the operation system (‘The Operating System’?) for ‘The Machine’ will be available this year with hardware and memory to come over the next few years. HP have definitely raised the stakes this time with these announcements being made by top Executives along with a redirection of the majority of HP Labs in support of this project. To be perfectly honest it is easy to be somewhat cynical of this type of bold statement given the repeated delays in previously announced schedules. If nothing else it shows a gap between the smart people in HP R&D and those, equally smart I’m sure, in the sharp end of product development. I’m sure HP’s competitors are working on key elements of ‘The Machine’ notably photonic data transfer and ways of improving memory bandwidth (see above). And introducing these technologies into an existing server framework is going to be challenging enough without all the inevitable headaches of designing and producing a brand new operating system that will take full advantage of new technology yet still provide legacy compatibility.

Neuromorphic computing does seem to be progressing, albeit not quite as I ‘foregazed’ a year ago. IBM have designed, fabricated and analysed a 165k synapse chip in a 180nm technology using PCM (phase change memory) devices in a 1T1R configuration, reporting the results at IEDM and no doubt elsewhere. The resistances of the PCM elements are tuned to adjust the weights between the nodes of an artificial neural network (ANN). Indeed, I remember (reasonably) fondly the participating in the big resurgence of ANNs in the late eighties and early nineties. Note this is rather different from more recent approaches to neuromorphic computing such as Spike Timing Dependent Plasticity (STDP, about which I admit to knowing very little) and implementations exploiting the integrating capability of a resistive memory element. Nonetheless, I was expecting a bit more in terms of breakthroughs in this area last year. So I will boldly defer my 2014 prediction to 2015 (and here I am being somewhat critical of HP for doing more or less the same thing…, sorry guys and gals at HP).

(That’s enough predictions, Ed)
Christie Marrian, Director, ReRAM Forum

3 comments

  1. admin

    from Alan Niebel
    The Rambus announcement Tezzaron seems quite bullish if Tezzaron really expects to have working product by 2016. Unity made a lot of progress with CMOx, which Rambus has hopefully continued to develop, but without any acknowledgement that the CMOx or ReRAM has been built in Mbit arrays this expectation by Tezzaron is premature. Even if they can tape out functioning arrays, it will take more than two years to bring it into the market.

  2. admin

    Alan, apologies but your original comment (and my reply) got lost during a server crash (a.k.a. unscheduled maintenance!). I have cut and paste a copy of your comment above

  3. admin

    Hi Alan, Thanks for the Comment. I agree the Rambus/Tezzaron announcement would appear premature. Interestingly, Tezzaron have a fully owned subsidiary Novati Technologies that took over the operation of the old SVTC facility in Austin in 2012. http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/news/2012/10/22/former-svtc-austin-facility-to-operate.html Thus I suppose it is possible that Rambus has been processing CMOx wafers through Novati/SVTC prior to this announcement.

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