Intel Sampling Phase-Change Memory

This is about as cool as memory can ever get.

Memory, it must be conceded, is rarely an enthralling topic. RAM is necessary, some of it is slightly faster, some of it is slightly cheaper, you pay your money you take your choice. And then Intel comes along and announces that it has joined together with a company called STMicroelectronics to start shipping samples of phase-change memory (PCM), setting the hearts of geeks everywhere all a flutter in the process.

For those not familiar with the technology, PCM is intended as a replacement for both current RAM and SSD; incorporating the advantages of both. The specifics of PCM are as complex as they are interesting, so peruse them at you leisure, but for most of us it should be enough to know that the chips operate at similar speeds to RAM but are non-volatile so that they retain data stored on them without being powered.

Supposedly these chips, dubbed Alverstone, are the first functional prototypes to be delivered to companies for evaluation and should bring wide-scale adoption that bit closer. Some may recall that Intel and STMicroelectronics founded a company named Numonyx (which sounds like some manner of lung disease, but we’ll let that slide) last year in order to oversee the production and distribution of PCM, so it looks like their offspring is coming good for its parents.

According to Ed Doller, Chief Technology Officer at Numonyx:

This is the most significant non-volatile memory advancement in 40 years. There have been plenty of attempts to find and develop new non-volatile memory technologies, yet of all the concepts, PCM provides the most compelling solution – and Intel and STMicroelectronics are delivering PCM into the hands of customers today. This is an important milestone for the industry and for our companies.”

Certainly I have to agree that PCM, if it does indeed become the next major memory standard, will be a huge step forward. Interestingly, it would mean some pretty radical changes to the current PC architecture, as the need for both RAM and permanent storage drives would be eliminated. It may be a few years before we see any real levels of mainstream adoption, but if any company can push a new technology into the mass market it’s Intel – now where do I place my order for a 1TB sample?

Intel press release.

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