Breaking the Speed Limits of Phase-Change Memory

Science  22 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6088, pp. 1566-1569
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221561

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Phase-change random-access memory (PCRAM) is one of the leading candidates for next-generation data-storage devices, but the trade-off between crystallization (writing) speed and amorphous-phase stability (data retention) presents a key challenge. We control the crystallization kinetics of a phase-change material by applying a constant low voltage via prestructural ordering (incubation) effects. A crystallization speed of 500 picoseconds was achieved, as well as high-speed reversible switching using 500-picosecond pulses. Ab initio molecular dynamics simulations reveal the phase-change kinetics in PCRAM devices and the structural origin of the incubation-assisted increase in crystallization speed. This paves the way for achieving a broadly applicable memory device, capable of nonvolatile operations beyond gigahertz data-transfer rates.

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