IBM engineers have created Phase Change Memory (PCM) which may represent a revolutionary step in meetingĀ future storage needs on both a reliable and economic basis.

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ibm-scientists-achieve-storage-memory-breakthrough-300269117.html

ZURICH, May 17, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — For the first time, scientists at IBM (NYSE: IBM) Research have demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM).

The current memory landscape spans from venerable DRAM to hard disk drives to ubiquitous flash. But in the last several years PCM has attracted the industry’s attention as a potential universal memory technology based on its combination of read/write speed, endurance, non-volatility and density. For example, PCM doesn’t lose data when powered off, unlike DRAM, and the technology can endure at least 10 million write cycles, compared to an average flash USB stick, which tops out at 3,000 write cycles.

IBM scientists envision standalone PCM as well as hybrid applications, which combine PCM and flash storage together, with PCM as an extremely fast cache. For example, a mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds. In the enterprise space, entire databases could be stored in PCM for blazing fast query processing for time-critical online applications, such as financial transactions.

How PCM Works — PCM materials exhibit two stable states, the amorphous (without a clearly defined structure) and crystalline (with structure) phases, of low and high electrical conductivity, respectively. To store a ‘0’ or a ‘1’, known as bits, on a PCM cell, a high or medium electrical current is applied to the material. A ‘0’ can be programmed to be written in the amorphous phase or a ‘1’ in the crystalline phase, or vice versa. Then to read the bit back, a low voltage is applied. This is how re-writable Blue-ray Discs* store videos.

“Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry,” said Dr. Haris Pozidis, an author of the paper and the manager of non-volatile memory research at IBM Research – Zurich. “Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash.”