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New "PRAM" 30 Times Faster Than Flash 154

hairyfeet writes, "The EETimes describes the new Samsung memory, phase-change RAM, called PRAM. Samsung is dubbing it 'Perfect RAM' because it is thirty times faster than NOR flash, ten times more durable — and cheaper to produce, to boot." 512-Mbit modules should be available sometime in 2008. None of the initial coverage goes much beyond Samsung's press release. At the same time, Samsung also announced a 40-nm, 32-Gbit NAND flash device.
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New "PRAM" 30 Times Faster Than Flash

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  • Advantages (Score:5, Interesting)

    by duerra ( 684053 ) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:30PM (#16081790) Homepage
    It sounds like great marketing and all using the name "PRAM" for "Perfect RAM". However, can anybody tell me what, if any, advantages that this design has over MRAM [wikipedia.org]? I'm all for a replacement of flash, given all of its disadvantages, but I would like to avoid a format war if one format between these two is clearly superior to the other.
    • Re:Advantages (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:32PM (#16081808) Journal
      I didn't see it in this, does PRAM not have the read/write cycle limitation of flash? I hope so...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        it mentioned '10 times more durable'? Maybe this means that it will go bad at a rate 1/10th of regular flash.
        • I was thinking more along the lines of physical durability with that one. Could be that though. If that's the case, I'd really want 1000x more durable, or more.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by networkBoy ( 774728 )
            Maybe, but thermal durability is not there.
            Phase Change Memory (PCM) is thermally unstable (double edged sword). Durring reflow the temp is high enough to blank the device, so no factory programming. Devices will have to be in-circuit programmed.

            Good side: increminating evidence? just place in toaster or other suitable device and set on high. problem solved.
      • Flash does not have read cycle limitations. It has erasure/write limitations. However, in most typical usage scenarios this is a red herring or can be designed around quite simply with various wear levelling strategies.

        MRAM, OTOH, does have read limitations too making it poor for execute in place applications. MRAM is also expensive (per byte) and not very dense, making it useless for most typical flash applicaitons.

        At this stage NAND is the prefered flash for large arrays and file system applications becau

    • by kippers ( 809056 )
      Atleast you would be able to add content to either formats and transfer at will. Unlike the whole Blueray thing...
    • The format war would take place with manufacturers and memory producers. Consumers will likely never install pram or mram into their computers just like they don't install flash now. The only time you might buy pram would be a USB flash device, and that already has the standard interface of USB. So really there's no reason consumers would ever have to choose one technology pathway or another. Manufacturers would have to choose, but they're much better prepared to switch technologies and avoid having dea
      • by rwven ( 663186 )
        Consumers don't install flash into their computers now because Flash isn't all that fast... It's (much) faster to have DDR SDRAM than it is to have Flash...and for the purposes that general computer ram is used for, it works great. While it would be nice to have a very fast non-volitile solution, there just isn't anything currently being made in volume at a price worth paying that can compete with the likes of DDR, etc.

        MRAM may be the solution to that problem...which is EXACTLY why it will probably make i
        • When a person is at a store and a salesperson tells them "this computer has a solid state hard drive which is really fast but will randomly start losing data and dying later in life" do you think many people are going to be interested?

          The operating system most people buy does this but it doesn't stop them!
        • by joto ( 134244 )

          Wow, by your logic nobody would have bought digital cameras, mp3-players, or USB flash ram. And the major harddrive vendors wouldn't be thinking about combining traditional HD technology with flash ram.

          Does that tell you that you might be a bit out of tune with reality?

        • Anything that is going to start dying after it gets used a (relatively fixed) certain number of times is not something people are generally going to be interested in.

          That's actually true of any technology. Entropy is a bitch, isn't it? It's even true of current information storage devices on a short lifespan. How many people have lost data from a HD crash? This technology will likely be used as a third storage teir, mostly for fast startup times, etc. Put in 5 gigs of the stuff and let it act like a di
    • by Firehed ( 942385 )
      This PRAM won't get fucked up if it gets near a magnet? That's a rather important thing for portable data, since just losing a floppy's worth was enough of a pain not so many years ago, and we'll be talking at least three orders of magnitude more storage.

      That, and MRAM was supposed to come out and have replaced DRAM entirely something like two years ago. So at this point, I'd effectively dub it vaporware. Of course this PRAM might end up in the same state, but it's not overdue yet.

      In either case, I would
      • by Forge ( 2456 )
        To expose your USB drive to a magnet and not louse data what you need isn't a better memory technology inside. Fact is as long as you are rearranging electrons to store data your data is vulnerable to magnets.

        What you need to achieve that is better shielding. I can't remember the brand but I once left a 32 MB thumb drive stuck to the magnet of a 15" Pile, speaker. None of the 20 MB of data on it was damaged.

        This stick had a Metal shell. Perhaps someone who knows more than I do about memory technology and Ph
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by networkBoy ( 774728 )
          In the case of flash, that speaker was not nearly powerful enough.
          Flash uses a floating gate, and the electron tunneling effect to program (charging the gate). This requires roughly 9-12 volts, so there is an internal charge pump. To disturb those electrons on the floating gate, while not actively programming, would take well over 10K Gauss, likely in the 100K Gauss range. Don't have a powerful enough magnet to prove anything with, but the 5K Gauss one didn't do squat to a part.
        • by Firehed ( 942385 )
          My point was that if you replace that flash memory with magnetic storage, it's much more prone to becoming fubar, a la floppies. You can't easily damage a hard drive with a household magnet (the strongest magnets I own came from inside a hard drive, and a pretty old one at that), but something likely to be as exposed as a USB stick might not be so hard-wearing.
    • Good question. Not sure of all the answers, but I'll help as much as I can.

      First off, PRAM = Phase change RAM.

      PRAM is a writable DVD on a chip. It works by heating and cooling material at different rates. By annealing the stuff appropriately, you can cause it to enter either an amorphous or a crystaline state. These two states differ in two ways: Reflectivity and conductivity. You can read and write either with an optical or an electrical system. On a DVD-R, you write a bit by heating with a lase

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )
      I would like to avoid a format war if one format between these two is clearly superior to the other

      I don't see why a format war is inevitable... different hard drives also use different storage technologies, but as long as they all provide the same interface (e.g. SCSI or IDE) nobody needs to know or care what sort of magic is going on inside.

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:32PM (#16081801) Homepage Journal
    1. Someone's getting their MBits and GBits mixed up. Samsung has announced 32-gigabit (4GB) flash chips, not 32 megabit.

    2. NAND has traditionally been shunned in many uses because it can usually only be accessed as a block device, and not a standard ROM device. Which makes it unsuitable for many embedded applications. Thus this chip is probably targetted at the thumb drive market.

    3. This is exciting stuff! According to the article, PRAM is supposed to have processing speeds similar to RAM, and does not require erasure or sectoring. The only downside is that they don't give any hard figures on what "fast processing speed" means. Depending on what that actually means, we could start seeing machines that are able to instantly hibernate like EROS [wikipedia.org], but without the added step of writing to disk.

    4. The 512 MBit (64MB) device may sound small, but I imagine that more than one chip will be chained together to create a larger storage device. Samsung will probably also work to produce larger chips once they have all the early production issues worked out.

    5. The CIO article is already slow, so I'll add one tidbit they had. According to CIO, Samsung is considering PRAM to be a good fit for replaceing Flash memory in mobile phones. Considering the lower price, this could be a good fit. The only question is, does it use more or less power during read/write cycles?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Manchot ( 847225 )
      Also, what exactly does "three-dimensional transistor structure" mean? All major transistor structures are three-dimensional. In fact, I don't know how you could even make a useful device with photolithography that isn't three-dimensional.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *
        Also, what exactly does "three-dimensional transistor structure" mean?

        Usually it means that the circuitry is layered or "stacked" in a 3D matrix rather than the traditional "flat" 2D matrix. This means that you can cram more parts per square centimeter because your circuits have depth as well as width and length.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        no, current chips are 2.5D. basically they're just a series of circut "maps" laid on top of each other. Not much is different from circuit boards except they're a lot smaller. Look at it this way, no matter how many "maps" you pile on top of each other, you'll never have the simplicity of a globe, or a stack of blocks. Some of the new stuff does actual processing in the 3rd dimension.. in other words components and processing are stacked thru the layers, touching directly, which something that most chips
        • by grammar fascist ( 239789 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:23PM (#16082244) Homepage
          no, current chips are 2.5D. basically they're just a series of circut "maps" laid on top of each other.

          Which of course introduces limitations such as:

          1. You can't put one ledge on top of another, which limits specific types of gameplay

          2. Non-map opjects are sprites, which don't look so great, and dead bodies tend to rotate on the floor when you're not looking (which is a little unsettling)

          On the plus side, you can generate maps using only a single 2D or stacks of 2D blueprints.
      • by jfengel ( 409917 )
        One problem with stacking is heat; the transistors give out heat and if there's another transistor on top of it also giving out heat there's no place for that heat to go, eventually melting/burning the chip.

        In processors and ordinary refreshing RAM, the transistors are continually being exercised. I wonder if part of the solution in this case is that stable memory exercises the transistors less often, giving more time for heat dissipation. You'd risk overheating if you continually read the same block, thoug
        • Reading produces almost no heat in the array (the stacked part) the perifery, where the heat is generated is flat, so still no issues.
          Writing would have to be limited, as heat is used to cause the phase change much like a CD-RW laser heats the media to effect the change in it. In fact IIRC the compound is the same CD-RW and PCMemory.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kdawson ( 3715 )
      Gbit erratum corrected, thanks for spotting.
      • corrected, thanks for spotting.

        No problem. :)

        Welcome to the list of Slashdot editors, BTW. Don't let the anti-editor crowd get you down. ;)
    • by jZnat ( 793348 ) *
      What's with the wrong use of data capacity measurements? n-bit is only useful for network speeds (historical I'm assuming since 1 baud = 1 bps), encryption, and very small data sizes (e.g. CPU register sizes; places where every bit counts). The article should use n-byte measurements since it's measuring storage...
      • What's with the wrong use of data capacity measurements?

        Memory parts are always referred to in bits rather than bytes, since the actual storage is usually at the bit level. Bytes are only used once the device has been packaged, and only accepts requests on a byte, word, or dword basis. So it's not really incorrect. You're just unfamiliar with the terminology. Do a bit of circuit design and you'll hear a lot more numbers given in bits rather than bytes. :)

        • by jZnat ( 793348 ) *
          Oh, that makes sense. I'm into computer science much more than electrical engineering.
      • 1 baud != 1 bps. Baud is the signaling rate in events per second; a signal event can represent more than 1 bit of data. If you have a system that signals 10 times per second, with each signal encoding 4 bits of data, you have a system that is 10 baud, and 40 bps. Using baud in place of data rate is a common misusage. See the wikipedia entry on Baud [wikipedia.org] for more information.
    • ..what "fast processing speed" means

      I assume it means time taken for a cycle of read/write/erasure. If it's based on Chalcogenide phase change materials (typically found in optical media) I suspect the timescale for writing and erasing will be ~10s of nS.

    • Samsung has announced 32-gigabit (4GB) flash chips, not 32 megabit.

      Considering that I can get a 4GB SD flash card for $60, I'm guessing that those 32 gigabit chips have been out for a while? Or do those tiny SD cards have 2 chips in them?
      • Or do those tiny SD cards have 2 chips in them?

        They most likely have more than one chip in them. Look at a stick of RAM sometime and count how many chip packages are mounted on it. You'll usually find more than one chip.

        Probably the craziest example of this was the SuperPaint [wikipedia.org] Framebuffer [wikipedia.org] which was spread across 16 circut cards, each populated with TONS of memory chips.

        If I'm doing my computations right, he needed 1215 chips to complete his project! I hope he got a bulk discount. :P

        • I guess there's room in a SD card for multiple chips. It's just that the SD Card is the size of a postage stamp with the upper 1/4 consumed by the contact points. I guess as long as the 16Gbit chips are less then around 0.8 cm^2 then there's enough room inside the packaging for a pair of them.
          • The actual silicon is tiny. For example, Samsungs 1GB NAND chip is a mere 146 square millimeters [pma-show.com], or approx. 12mm x 12mm. The real space consumption on a board is always in the chip packaging, which is often sized to surface mount or slot into a board. So the 32mm x 24mm packaging of SD cards should pose little challenge to placing more than one chip, assuming the traces are etched directly into the SD card. Considering their size, I see no other way they'd do it.
  • Good (Score:5, Funny)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:32PM (#16081809) Journal
    Cause I'm sick of how long it takes to load those damn Flash ads that hang over my browser window.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ElephanTS ( 624421 )
      Heh heh - good point. And don't forget to reset the PRAM hold down ++P+R and wait for the double bong.

      (personally I'd be happy with one bong but some people are greedy that way)

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
      You do realize that now you could have 30x as many of them before your computer slows to a crawl. I somehow think that you should be unhappy about this.

      (Yes, I do realize he is joking. So am I.)
  • cheaper to produce, to boot.
    Yea but since it is "better than flash" they can charge more for it and just get much larger profits. I hate hate hate how companies throw on "new technology" surcharges even when it costs less than the old tech to produce.

    dont mind me I am just bitter today.
    • by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:56PM (#16082019)
      It's business... they are selling something that does more for only a little more money. That makes them a tidy profit!!! That's what they develop new chips for is PROFIT. In another year or two, the prices will drop to be lower, or we will have devices so large we couldn't have afforded them at all... i.e. price of a 4GB SD card isn't going down any time soon due to complexity of manufactureing.. but the new chips may make 4GB as affordable as 1GB sooner.
      • What I was more thinking about is how the record company passes high costs of production to the consumer but keeps the profits from low cost of production. For instance when the cd technology came about they said that prices would be high for awhile because of how much it costed to produce cds at the time. So there is a example of the consumer paying more for cost of production. Yet when itunes and friends came about and the cost of production went to almost nil (bandwidth) did we see a decrease in the pric
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Znork ( 31774 )
          CDs and music in general are subject to monopoly rights, and thus have no actual competition. Prices on them will rise to absorb any economic elbow room available, and even worse, the cost structure will adjust to the revenue, essentially negating the entire purpose of a free market economy.

          Memory on the other hand is interchangable with other memory, thus subject to a much more fierce competition, which drives prices down.
        • You can also seen this done with hybrid engines costing more yet not costing more to make. Though I dont know enough about that to make a solid arguement. Feel free to shred what I just said.

          Yet a hybrid DOES cost more than a non-hybrid of the same power, especially when you consider the whole fuel train. Going to a hybrid power solution adds complexity, additional materials, etc... Right now that cost is $3-5k for automobiles.

          As for this tech, even if it's ultimately cheaper to produce, you're still goin
      • That's what they develop new chips for is PROFIT

        Its funny how people (like the grandparent) usually don't get this. They expect companies to develop new tech and loose money doing it.

        Interestingly, I've never met someone who says this and pays to go to work... that would be sticking to your guns.
    • You can attribute the higher price to the R&D costs.
      Why should a company invest in R&D? To get a return on investment!! (and to stay competitive)
    • by rbanffy ( 584143 )
      New semiconductor technologies consume a lot of cash to develop, test and put into production so then, maybe, they can cover development costs. Most of them never reach this last stage and with luck, become patents so their owners can sue whoever solves the problems they didn't.
  • Ob. Python (Score:3, Funny)

    by TexasDex ( 709519 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:40PM (#16081868) Homepage
    I have to push the PRAM-a-lot!
  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:41PM (#16081878)
    Since a pram is generally used at walking speed, doesn't anyone think of the baby's safety when it's rolling 30 times faster, i.e., 90 miles/hr or 145kph?

    Think of the children!

  • PRAM is Parameter RAM in Apple Macs, and that's a vital part of the computer (well, logic board). Maybe Apple will start using PRAM for its PRAM?
    • PRAM is Parameter RAM in Apple Macs, and that's a vital part of the computer (well, logic board). Maybe Apple will start using PRAM for its PRAM?

      Yeah I was kinda wondering about that...

      Besides, isn't "Perfect" RAM a little arrogant? What do they call the next stuff, "Super-Perfect", "Ultra-Perfect", "Mega-Perfect", "Super-Duper"?
    • by Pahroza ( 24427 )
      And zapping PRAM just became more fun. Toss it in the microwave instead of having to hold down 15 (exaggeration) keys at the same time in some sick attempt at becoming Digital Twister Champion.
  • With all our luck, it's probably going to turn out to be destructive to the ozone layer or cause cancer in lab rats. Whenever someone discovers something amazingly useful, it always turns out to have negative side effects. I believe that's called the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    Sorry to rain on the parade.

    • I doubt it will do either of those. I'm more worried about lifetime and corrupt bits.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by IflyRC ( 956454 )
      Don't worry, Al Gore is already investigating and incorporating it into his slide show.
      Michael Moore is working on the movie.
    • Whenever someone discovers something amazingly useful, it always turns out to have negative side effects. I believe that's called the Law of Unintended Consequences.

      There's a belief that women are starting to get bigger breasts as a result of the various hormones that are pumped into chickens to give them bigger breasts.... all this to say: the Law of Unintended Consequences does not only refer to negative side effects.

      My sources for this belief are strictly anecdotal and generally as a result of seeing

      • by jafiwam ( 310805 )
        My assumption is that if there is a difference (who says there is? with all the sizing changes in women's clothing and style differences it could be just that) was due to the fact that at 12 years old, the average Westerner kid has eaten 3 times as many calories than other kids.

        More calories and more fat and more protein equals more stuff built earlier.
  • "So l toasted the dated directory, tweaked the P-RAM ... and reglazed your subroutine."
    - Pauly Shore
  • Pauly Shore (Score:3, Funny)

    by RudeDude ( 672 ) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:48PM (#16081944) Homepage Journal
    Your PC got harshed, right, 'cause your
    system heaps at the wrong parameter.
    So l toasted the dated directory,
    tweaked the P-RAM...
    and reglazed your subroutine.
      - Crawl, in "Son In Law" (Pauly Shore)
  • What I really want is not more super-duper fast RAM but real cheap and abundance of FLASH - to replace (at least partially) hard-drive. Not only performance but reliability will be better for a system overall.
  • Just when we start to worry that we've hit a wall in our attempts to grow, somebody goes and cuts a completely unexpected doorway in it.

    Same thing happened with telecommunications vis-a-vis wireless.

    I'm looking forward to something similar happening with domestic power generation and distribution.

  • Some day this might very well be the next big thing. But I wouldn't take the manufacturers word as the gospel for when it's going to arrive. And it really has to be cheaper to replace flash memories en masse. Flash is good enough for phones, memory cards etc. The new tech doesn't solve any obvious fundamental flaw (100 000 read/write cycles is still enough for most applications)

    Compare with SED displays. We all want them (if they're not much more expensive than our current ones). But it's been slipping a
  • Jay Garrick I can see, and maybe Barry Allen and Bart Allen, but Wally West was boo-koo speedy.
  • More immediately, this announcement means that Flash prices should start dropping even more. Maybe not to $0.25:GB like desktop HDs today, but maybe $2:GB (instead of today's $16:GB), for mobiles. When they release PRAM devices in 2008, they'll sell them for much more money than Flash because of the speed, but start dropping prices faster because of the cheaper manufacturing. By the time PRAM costs $2:GB, they'll be dumping Flash for $0.25:GB. HDs will probably cost $10:TB, if they're used outside datacente
  • New PRAM 30 Times Faster

    Go BABY, Go!
  • pram powns 'puters
  • Cheaper? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roadmaster ( 96317 ) <roadmr@@@tomechangosubanana...com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @01:39PM (#16082395) Homepage Journal
    Cheaper to produce, my ass. They'll be charging an arm and a leg for this type of memory.
  • I.... have... to-o-o-o.. push.... the.... PRAM a lo-o-o-o-o-t!

    (quick montage of knights dancing and kicking chickens)

    No, on second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

  • Storage should be stated in megaBYTES and gigaBYTES not bits. No one uses bits anymore, we've all upgraded to bytes. Then there was that half standard of nibbles, what the heck was that all about.
    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      When it comes to a chip manufacturer stating memory storage capacity, then megabits is the standard. Deal. The reason it's stated that way is because it indicates the number of addressable units.
    • Why even talk about binary storage methods in bits? All of us endusers only know bytes, and it's a significant imposition to make us multiply or divide by eight to get anything useful. It's not like you're storing your information as individual bits of...oh...right. :rolleyes:
  • FTA:

    ...availability beginning sometime in 2008...

    You decide.

  • will we have to call them "pr0m" disks?
    • by Skevin ( 16048 )
      > will we have to call them "pr0m" disks?

      Only if it's read-0nly memory. In my day, we used to have plenty of Read-Only porn... they were called magazines.

  • I speak for all Mac geeks when I say, ugh, "PRAM."

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=861 94 [apple.com]

    Couldn't they pick an acronym that's not already being used?
  • Although someone else posted it - but have a score of 0 presently and are probably filtered by most people - the wikipedia entry for this type of memory is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-change_memory [wikipedia.org]

    I did a literature search on this type of memory, and found a paper by Samsung on a 64-Mb PRAM published earlier this year.
    "Enhanced write performance of a 64-mb phase-change random access memory"
    Hyung-rok Oh; Beak-hyung Cho; Woo Yeong Cho; Sangbeom Kang; Byung-gil Choi; Hye-jin Kim; Ki-sung Kim; Du-eung

Center meeting at 4pm in 2C-543.