What’s Trending in Memory Technology in 2021?
While fabrication grounds to a halt and the electronics supply chain shutters, chip manufacturers and researchers are still hard at work developing better memory technology for enhanced compute potential.
A trifecta of pain points is occurring for computing technology: COVID-19-related bandwidth demands, the ongoing semiconductor shortage, and finally, the twilight years of Moore’s Law.
If AI and machine learning are to advance in this remote lifestyle post-pandemic, then memory will be key. But in the past few years, memory technology has only undergone iterative improvements with very few breakthrough technology events—like the development of DRAM (1966), SRAM (1969), and NAND (1980).
What does the roadmap for memory look like in 2021?
DRAM Shortage on the Horizon?
One immediate challenge for memory is potentially severe DRAM shortages, which Micron Technology says may worsen as 2021 progresses. This is due to the surging requirements of data centers and drought conditions affecting Taiwanese fabs.
Trend analysis by Jabil on the effects of semiconductor shortages across many sectors. Image used courtesy of Jabil
These shortages ripple through the industry, affecting individuals' jobs as companies race to source chips from a dwindling supply.
SK Hynix Reveals Plans for DRAM and NAND
Despite these shortages, memory technology leaders have promised hardware-level improvements in DRAM and NAND. Specifically, SK Hynix recently revealed its plans for DRAM and NAND technology in a keynote address at an IEEE IRPS symposium. There, CEO Seok-Hee Lee discussed the importance of memory technology in advancing ICT and a sustainable planet.
Roadblocks to scaling memory technology. Image used courtesy of SK Hynix
Further, Lee pinpointed some technology-level initiatives his company has mapped for this year. For DRAM, SK Hynix will focus on vaulting that challenges of lithography, upholding the capacitance of cell capacitors, and decreasing the resistance of the metal for interconnects. For NAND, the company intends to secure both high aspect ratio contact (HARC) etching technology and cell dielectric characteristics while finding a solution for film stress issues.
IBM Zeros In on MRAM Deployment
Memory architectures like SRAM, DRAM, and NAND are a trade-off of parameters such as density, speed, volatility, and endurance (read/write cycle lifetime). Spin-transfer torque magnetic RAM (STT-MRAM) is a potential game-changer, which IBM has been working on for decades.
As a "game-changing" development, MRAM could affect all memory applications in the future. Image used courtesy of Forbes
Solving the challenges associated with MRAM means overcoming these four parameters to create a new architecture that competes with existing technology, all the while reducing power consumption by 50%. According to Forbes analysts, 2021 may be the year that IBM makes a breakthrough in MRAM.
DDR5 and Non-Volatile RAM Marches On
Continuing on the trajectory of 2020, DDR5 looks poised for continued growth this year. Recently, Samsung unveiled a massive 512 GB DDR5 module targeting AI, ML, and supercomputing applications. SK Hynix and Micron have also devoted resources to DDR5 for securing automotive memory.
Meanwhile, Infineon has doubled down on non-volatile static RAM (nvRAM), releasing a second-generation device that features automatic 20-year data retention in the event of power loss.
Catch Up on Other Memory Improvements
- Boosting Memory Performance in the Age of DDR5: An Intro to DDR Training Modes
- The Data Center Spike: Micron Prepares by Rolling Out DDR5
- JEDEC Releases DDR5 Standards—And the Push for Widespread DDR5 Adoption is On
How have you seen memory technologies evolve throughout your career? Share your thoughts in the comments below.