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IBM Way Closer to Commercially Topple DRAM

IBM Way Closer

Variant technological advancements have been made with PCM to oust the most accepted DRAM applications in data centers. Now, IBM is known to have unfolded a way to make datacenters processing swift and agile.

PCM (phase-change memory) is one of the emerging technologies that aim to be faster than flash and frugal than DRAM leveraging enterprises and consumers’ faster access to data though there are few application-level disputes.

First is the density, IBM shares on Twitter that the company has achieved a new high in that area with a version of PCM that can fit three bits on each cell. That’s 50 percent more than the company showed off in 2011 with a two-bit form of PCM. Greater density lets IBM squeeze more capacity out of what is still a pricey technology.

PCM has shipped in a few products but on a relatively small scale. This iteration could do the trick to make PCM a broader success, according to Jim Handy, analyst at research firm Objective Analysis. So far it’s remained more expensive than DRAM, so there hasn’t been much of a reason to use it, Handy said.

PCM works by changing a glass-like substance from an amorphous to a crystalline form using an electrical charge. Like NAND flash, it keeps storing data when a device is turned off, which DRAM can’t do. But PCM responds to requests for data more quickly than flash: In less than one microsecond, compared with 70 microseconds, according to IBM. It also lasts longer than flash, to at least 10 million write cycles versus about 3,000 cycles for an average flash USB stick.

Three-bit PCM is claimed to be a faster tier of storage within arrays, including all-flash arrays, so the most-used data gets to applications faster. It could also take the place of a lot of the DRAM in systems, cutting the cost of technologies like in-memory databases, Handy said.

Consumers may benefit from the technology, too. For example, a smartphone that has its operating system stored in three-bit PCM could start up in just a few seconds, IBM said in a report.

According to an international report, IBM added two features to make the new form of PCM possible. One is a way to adjust for so-called “drift,” which can gradually degrade the memory’s ability to store the right values. The other counters the effects of heat on PCM so it can run reliably in normal system temperatures.

Another piece of the puzzle is how to get the data to the processor without slowing down the data on the way. IBM’s betting on CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface), a high-speed protocol it uses in Power-based servers. CAPI runs on top of the PCIe physical interface.

IBM isn’t predicting when three-bit PCM will be commercialized as the company has to find partners to drive the technology into the market.

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