Flash forward

As solid-state drives catch on, Nano RAM promises a big advance

EVERY SO OFTEN, a new technology
comes along that transforms
the way we work. Lithium
batteries, for example, made
personal digital assistants and cell
phones possible.

Solid-state flash memory hard
drives have the potential to produce
similar changes. Solid-state
drives, or SSDs, are in many ways
ideal for portable devices because
they are smaller and lighter than
traditional hard drives, have no
moving parts, are durable and
use relatively little power.

Micron Technology has
jumped with both feet into SSDs
that employ NAND flash memory,
introducing the RealSSD
32G and 64G drives in November.
The NAND drives require
less than 2 watts of power when
in use and weigh about half as
much as hard drives of comparable
capacities.

Intel also announced in December
that it would embed
Z-P140 PATA Solid-State
Drives ' which also use NAND
flash memory ' as an optional
module on motherboards provided
to manufacturers for ultramobile
PCs.

Intel's SSD chip, which weighs
only 0.6 grams, will be available in
2G and 4G capacities. The onboard
storage capacity will be expandable
to as much as 16G with
four SSDs connected to a standard
Parallel Advanced Technology
Attachment (PATA) interface
that links the drives. According to
Intel, the storage capacity is expected
to grow to 64G in the next
two years.

But if you believe Greg Schmergel,
chief executive officer at Nantero,
we haven't seen anything yet.
Within a couple of years,
Schmergel said, his company expects
to deliver solid-state memory
built with carbon nanotubes
that will offer performance far
beyond the capability of NANDbased
drives.

The memory ' called Nano
RAM, or NRAM ' uses carbon
nanotubes that are only one carbon
atom thick. The tube diameter
is approximately 100,000
times smaller than a human hair.

'It's permanently nonvolatile,'
Schmergel told GCN. 'And it's extremely
fast ' comparable to
SRAM ' because it uses nanotubes
and the mass of the nanotubes
is so small they can move
the extremely short distance that
they have to move in a very, very
short time.'

Schmergel said NRAM also uses
little power.

NRAM can overcome two of the
shortcomings of NAND: It is not
as fast as a traditional hard drive,
and it does not have as long a
lifespan.

'NRAM can be hundreds of
times faster,' said Schmergel. 'Basically,
what you get ... is memory
that has the speed of SRAM but
with the density of the RAM and
the nonvolatility of flash all in one
chip. It will enable a true instanton
computer.' NRAM also is highly
resistant to radiation, which is a
major plus for some federal agencies
and departments. 'You can
send this memory into space or
into other environments,' he said.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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