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Memory makeover: DRAM days numbered as Japan eyes MRAM

DRAM has been around a long, long time. Is MRAM the next big memory thing?

Everspin Technologies MRAM product.
Everspin Technologies MRAM product.
Everspin Technologies

A Japan-U.S. alliance is targeting a replacement for DRAM -- a longstanding staple of computer hardware.

More than 20 Japanese and US chip-related companies are joining forces to develop mass-production techniques for a next-generation chip technology called magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM, according to a report in Nikkei's Asian Review.

Players in the new research push include Tokyo Electron, Shin-Etsu Chemical, Renesas Electronics, Hitachi, and US memory giant Micron Technology.

The companies "will dispatch a few dozen researchers" to Tohoku University in northern Japan, according to Nikkei. The effort at Tohoku University will be led by professor Tetsuo Endoh. Development will begin in February.

With MRAM, data is stored by means of magnetic storage elements instead of as electric charges or current flows.

The Nikkei report characterizes MRAM as having one-third the power consumption of DRAM with 10 times the capacity and 10 times the writing speed. (More on MRAM here.)

All this makes it, in theory, a perfect match for next-generation smartphones and tablets.

Whether those claims actually manifest themselves in a commercial product remains to be seen, though. Commercial mass production is targeted for 2018, the report said.

The storage industry is a dust bin of failed ventures promising new, radical storage technologies.

But wait. There is a Chandler, Ariz.-based company, Everspin Technologies, that already markets a MRAM product.

Here's how Everspin describes their MRAM.

Everspin Technologies is the leading developer and manufacturer of magnetic RAM (MRAM)...Everspin's MRAM is the industry's fastest non-volatile memory...[MRAM has] SRAM read/write cycle time, unlimited read/write endurance, [and is] non-volatile for greater than 20-years...Everspin has established an MRAM intellectual property portfolio of more than 600 active patents and applications, many of which are fundamental and essential for MRAM technologies.

Will memory giants follow suit? We've got until 2018 to find out.