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Macronix plans to heat up flash memory to keep it from burning out

Sean Buckley, @seaniccus
December 3, 2012
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Despite the looming threat of being replaced by phase-change memory, contemporary memory modules aren't quite ready to be shown the door -- engineers at Macronix have found a way to revive spent NAND flash cells. Most flash modules fail after being written to and erased about 10,000 times, but Macronix found that the tired memory could be restored by baking it for extended periods of time. The team funneled the time consuming and cumbersome solution into a more practical package: a redesigned memory chip that packs onboard heaters. The new modules are designed to periodically heat focused groups of memory cells to 800 °C (1,472 °F) for a few milliseconds, effectively "healing" worn cells.

Researchers found that heated chips could tolerate more than 100 million write/erase cycles and erased faster at higher temperatures. The team said the power drain of the heaters shouldn't effect battery life, either -- chips don't have to be heated often, and when they do, it can be done while prospective devices are recharging. Macronix will be presenting the technology at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting next week, but project deputy director Hans-Ting Lue wouldn't say when the company plans on taking the technology to market. Lue was willing to speculate on what might become of it, however. "This may evolve into a 'thermally assisted' mode of operation that gives both better performance -- such as the faster erasing -- and better endurance flash memory." Faster, more reliable, super-heated memory. Sounds fine by us.

[Image credit: Emily Cooper, IEEE]

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