Scientists from the Physics and Engineering Department of the UK's Lancaster University have published a paper (opens in new tab) detailing a breakthrough in the mass production of UltraRAM (opens in new tab). Researchers have pondered over this novel memory type for several years due to its highly attractive qualities, and the latest breakthrough means that mass production on silicon wafers could be within sight. UltraRAM is described as a memory technology which "combines the non-volatility of a data storage memory, like flash, with the speed, energy-efficiency, and endurance of a working memory, like DRAM."
Importantly, UltraRAM on silicon could be the universal memory type that will one day cater to all the memory needs (both RAM and storage) of PCs and devices. However, we have already seen some similarly heralded ideas fall by the wayside; resistive RAM, magnetoresistive RAM, and phase-change memory, haven't made the impact that some initial reports foresaw. Moreover, we have seen Intel's Optane memory tech filling a gap between DRAM and storage but not completely bridging the divide. Intel withdrew Optane solutions for desktop PCs this time last year.
The fundamental science behind UltraRAM is that it uses the unique properties of compound semiconductors, commonly used in photonic devices such as LEDs, lasers, and infrared detectors can now be mass-produced on silicon. The researchers claim that the latest incarnation on silicon outperforms the technology as tested on Gallium Arsenide semiconductor wafers.
Some extrapolated numbers for UltraRAM are that it will offer "data storage times of at least 1,000 years," and its fast switching speed and program-erase cycling endurance is "one hundred to one thousand times better than flash." Add these qualities to the DRAM-like speed, energy efficiency, and endurance, and this novel memory type sounds hard for tech companies to ignore.
If you read between the lines above, you can see that UltraRAM is envisioned to break the divide between RAM and storage. So, in theory, you could use it as a one-shot solution to fill these currently separate requirements. In a PC system, that would mean you would get a chunk of UltraRAM, say 2TB, and that would cover both your RAM and storage needs.
The shift, if it lives up to its potential, would be a great way to push forward with the popular trend towards in-memory processing. After all, your storage would be your memory – with UltraRAM; it is the same silicon. As one use case sees success, it wouldn't be surprising to see UltraRAM deployment spread to cover from servers to PCs, to smart devices, consoles, and so on. Whether the new memory tech would be fast enough to elbow specialist fast memory types aside, like contemporary GDDR and HBM technologies, remains to be seen.
UltraRAM pricing might be another thorny issue. If it isn't price-competitive, its potential adoption rate, and transformative power, will be hindered. This economic factor remains to be seen, but the researchers were happy with the headlining silicon mass-production breakthrough of UltraRAM to make it accessible.
The Lancaster University researchers say that further work is ongoing to improve quality, fine-tune the fabrication process, and implement and scale UltraRAM devices.