There are three weak points for computer technology: COVID-19-related bandwidth requirements, the ongoing semiconductor shortage and finally the twilight years of Moore’s Law.
If AI and machine learning are to advance in this remote post-pandemic lifestyle, memory is key. In recent years, however, memory technology has seen iterative improvements with very few breakthrough technology events – such as the development of DRAM (1966), SRAM (1969), and NAND (1980).
What is the roadmap for memory in 2021?
DRAM shortage on the horizon?
An immediate challenge to memory is potentially severe DRAM bottlenecks, which Micron Technology says may worsen over the course of 2021. This is due to the increasing demands on data centers and the drought conditions in Taiwanese factories.
Trend analysis by Jabil on the effects of semiconductor shortages in many sectors. Image courtesy of Jabil
These bottlenecks run through the industry and affect individuals’ jobs as companies try to source chips from a dwindling supply.
SK Hynix Reveals Plans for DRAM and NAND
Despite these bottlenecks, the leading memory technologists have promised hardware-level improvements for DRAM and NAND. In particular, SK Hynix recently announced its plans for DRAM and NAND technology in a keynote address at an IEEE-IRPS symposium. There, CEO Seok-Hee Lee discussed the importance of storage technology for the further development of ICT and a sustainable planet.
Barriers to scaling storage technology. Image courtesy of SK Hynix
Additionally, Lee highlighted some of the technology-level initiatives his company has planned for this year. For DRAM, SK Hynix will focus on addressing these lithography challenges, maintaining the capacitance of cell capacitors, and reducing the resistance of the metal to interconnection. For NAND, the company intends to ensure both the HARC (High Aspect Ratio Contact) etching technology and the dielectric properties of the cells, while at the same time finding a solution to film stress problems.
IBM Zeros In for MRAM deployment
Memory architectures such as SRAM, DRAM and NAND are a compromise between parameters such as density, speed, volatility and endurance (lifetime of the read / write cycle). Spin Transfer Torque Magnetic RAM (STT-MRAM) is a potential game changer that IBM has been working on for decades.
As a “groundbreaking” development, MRAM could affect all memory applications in the future. Image courtesy of Forbes
To solve the challenges associated with MRAM, these four parameters must be overcome to create a new architecture that competes with existing technology while reducing power consumption by 50%. According to Forbes analysts, 2021 could be the year IBM makes a breakthrough in MRAM.
DDR5 and non-volatile RAM invade
DDR5 continues the course from 2020 and faces further growth this year. Recently, Samsung unveiled a huge 512GB DDR5 module aimed at AI, ML, and supercomputing applications. SK Hynix and Micron have also provided resources for backing up vehicle memory to DDR5.
In the meantime, Infineon has doubled the performance of non-volatile static RAM (nvRAM) and released a second generation device that offers 20 years of automatic data retention in the event of a power failure.
Find out about other memory enhancements
How did you see storage technologies evolving over the course of your career? Share your thoughts in the comments below.