After 38 years, a new type of computer memory to hit market

I just saw a great article on C/net by Michael Kanellos. It talks about a new type of memory hitting the market called Phase Change Memory. This caught my interest right away.  Given what this could mean long term for databases. I don?t pretend to understand what Phase Change Memory is. What I do know is how important computer memory is to optimizing performance out of your database

I have been working with Oracle databases for over 20 Years. My roots go back to Oracle version 3. One thing that has never changed. Databases like computer memory. The more memory you can give a database the  faster they work. This held true 20 years ago for an Oracle database and it hold true today. This same rule apply?s for a MYSQL database, a SQL Server Database and so on.

The big thing when we went to 64 bit was the amount of addressable memory and how it increased to dramtically.

So when I saw this article by Michael Kanellos it piqued my interest.
To quote the article ?It’s been a long haul for phase change memory, but the goal is in sight.?

This is being offered by Numonyx a joint venture by STMicroelectronics and Intel. They are already shipping samples of phase change memory (PCM) to customers and will be starting to ship phase change memory commercially later this year according to CEO Brian Harrison.

To highlight a few key items mentioned in the article:

“We expect to bring it to market this year and generate some revenue,” Harrison said. “It is one to two years before it becomes widely commercially available.”

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and the man for whom Moore’s Law was named, had an article in the September 28, 1970 issue of Electronics predicting that Ovonics Unified Memory, another name for the same type of memory, could hit the market by the end of that decade

The delays have largely stemmed from two sources. First, it’s not an easy technology to master. In phase change memory chips, a tiny laser heats up a microscopic bit on a substrate to between 150 degrees and 600 degrees Celsius. The substrate is made of the same stuff as CD disks. The heat melts the bit, which when cooled solidifies into one of two crystalline structures, depending on how fast the cooling takes place. The two different crystalline structures exhibit different levels of resistance to electrical current, and those levels of resistance in turn are then as ones or zeros by a computer. Data is born.

Why will the world want PCM? Performance, says Numonyx CTO Ed Doller. PCM chips can survive tens of millions of read-write cycles, he said, or far more than flash. Reading data to PCM chips takes 70 to 100 nanoseconds, or as fast as NOR flash. Data can be written to the chips at a rate of 1 megabyte a second, or equivalent of NAND flash. There is also no erase cycle, making it similar to DRAM.

In other words, you have the best attributes of three different types of memory–plus, PCM will potentially use far less power.

But the most important thing is that scientists believe they will be able to increase the density of these chips comparatively easily. In the future, standard flash chips will need additional circuitry for error correction and other functions. Not so with PCM. The smaller the bits get, the less heat that will be required to flip them, Doller added.

I found this article a very interesting read. I would encourage you to go to the original article. I have not done  it justice. After 38 years a new computer memory hits the market Its clear to me. This could be a technology that impact the database world in a big way in a few years.

Posted Michael Corey,


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