IBM Scientists on a new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM)



In our data-driven age, challenges and stakes related to data are huge and strategic, so that industries and scientists need streamlined tools and technologies to leverage this unmatched opportunity. 


When it comes to a new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM), for those who are unfamiliar, PCM is attracting the industry’s attention as a potential universal memory technology based on its combination of read/write speed, endurance, non-volatility and density. For example, PCM doesn’t lose data when powered off, unlike DRAM, and the technology can endure at least 10 million write cycles, compared to an average flash USB stick, which tops out at 3,000 write cycles. 

A new momentum from IBM Research (at the IEEE International Memory Workshop in Paris) has demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM).

One can learn that, in terms of applications, IBM scientists envision standalone PCM as well as hybrid applications, which combine PCM and flash storage together, with PCM as an extremely fast cache. For example, a mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds. In the enterprise space, entire databases could be stored in PCM for blazing fast query processing for time-critical online applications, such as financial transactions.

Machine learning algorithms using large datasets will also see a speed boost by reducing the latency overhead when reading the data between iterations.

To achieve multi-bit storage IBM scientists have developed two innovative enabling technologies: a set of drift-immune cell-state metrics and drift-tolerant coding and detection schemes. 

“Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry,” said Dr. Haris Pozidis, an author of the paper and the manager of non-volatile memory research at IBM Research - Zurich. “Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash.”