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Commentary: Timetables uncertain for new memory technologies

Market demand for memory for a huge number of consumer and business devices is growing at exponential rates.

Market demand for memory for a huge number of consumer and business devices is growing at exponential rates--beyond the capabilities of even the best-engineered conventional memory systems.

In 1981, Bill Gates thought that

See news story:
IBM, Infineon looking to shake up memory market
64K would be "enough memory for anyone" on the desktop. Today, PDAs and MP3 players come with 64MB of memory in people's pockets. In five years, devices the size of MP3 players will have enough memory to hold two feature films.

Major vendors such as IBM and university research departments are responding with a huge investment in developing new memory technologies. Several are in development--including the magnetic random access memory (MRAM) chip which IBM is now developing with Infineon, as well as 3D memory and laser optical memory.

We cannot say which of these new memory technologies will emerge as practical solutions, but we are confident that not all will. Remember, at one time magnetic bubble memory was expected to be the next major step forward, but it went nowhere. There is a major difference between success in the lab and simulations and success in the marketplace.

On the other hand, it is highly likely that at least one, and possibly several, of these new memory technologies will succeed in the marketplace within five years, given the level of investment focused on the problem. The impact will be huge, almost revolutionary, particularly in the pervasive computing arena and in consumer goods, where new memory technologies will make entirely new applications and products practical.

The demand for memory is insatiable, and huge numbers of applications are waiting on the appearance of new, more efficient and less expensive memory technologies. With the amount of financial and brainpower resources now being invested, it is likely that in five to seven years the amount of memory available in devices ranging from information appliances to MP3-like entertainment devices will be at least an order of magnitude greater than it is today.

Consumers should expect that new memory technologies will appear in the market during the next five years that will provide order-of-magnitude increases in the amount of memory available in devices at a much lower cost than today's DRAM and SRAM technologies. Many of these new technologies will probably be able to hold onto their memory when power is cut off, like today's flash memory, but with faster access times and lower power, making them suitable for battery-operated, mobile, PDA-sized devices.

However, consumers should not base plans on the specific timetables or promises made by the developers of any of these technologies. Currently, all of them are in early stages of their development, and those timetables and even the expectation that any specific technology will prove practical are still highly speculative.

In any case, consumers should not be concerned. They will not buy these new memory technologies separately; the new forms of memory will enter both organizations' and consumers' pockets as parts of full systems. The question will be what those systems can accomplish and how best to use them to improve our lives.

Meta Group analysts Dale Kutnick, Peter Burris, Val Sribar, David Cearley, Will Zachmann and Jack Gold contributed to this article. Visit Metagroup.com for more analysis of key IT and e-business issues. Entire contents, Copyright ? 2000 Meta Group, Inc. All rights reserved.