Ovonics as Cost-Benefit Breakthrough
The whole field of storage is of intense interest and concern to the IT community. There are speed and cost bottlenecks galore, and RDRAM even inspired uncountable flame wars. As has happened with other technologies, like automobile engines, once in a while an old technology surfaces with a new twist or two, and the potential to exploit some inbuilt advantage to great benefit at last. In the ’60s, Stanford Ovshinsky developed a reversible crystal-to-amorphous electronic process that is now floating to the surface.
There are many new technologies with a claim to super-fast, super-dense memory and storage capacities. From MEMS (Millipede) to holographic storage to quantum wells, we hear of wonderful new possibilities all the time. What’s different about this one?
To begin with, it’s already in production in some applications. The possible uses range from new battery types to solar cells (ECD, Inc.) to disc, Flash, and DRAM memory replacements, and it is the latter we are concerned with here. Optical discs use light to flip spots of material back and forth between ordered and disordered, while Ovonics uses electricity to flip much smaller spots, at much higher R/W speeds. It achieves this by adding a couple of additional thin films to CMOS-type circuits. Flexible film circuitry is in development.
Already in use in some rewriteable disc media, Ovonic memory has the potential to replace Flash and DRAM at much reduced cost, higher density–and is non-volatile to boot. A device using Ovonics RAM would come up instantly after any period of time (practically), and can endure trillions of R/W cycles. Speeds are approaching DRAM now, and are orders of magnitude higher than Flash memory. And unlike Flash, it is fully “random access.”
Apps and devices that might make use of such capabilities include: computers (desktop, laptop, and palm), aerospace, cell phones, graphics, GPS, video conferencing, multi-media, networking and interfacing, digital TV, telecom, PDA, voice recorders, modems, DVD, networking (ATM), Ethernet, and pagers. And probably smart refrigerators, too.
Intel is now licensing Ovonics, and I suspect the whole memory industry is in for an encounter with disruptive technology. The applications and advantages of smaller, cheaper, more robust are so massive that it’s hard to conceive of anything but a major shake-up in the works.
Author: Brian Hall