IBM has made improvements to phase-change memory (PCM) technology, which could boost mobile device memory.

Haris Pozidis, an IBM researcher, said during a conference in Paris that PCM could become a success by 2017. The latest development by IBM will allow for easy and fast storage of data on a wide array of devices including smartphones and tablets.

IBM scientists envisage stand-alone PCM and hybrid applications that combine flash memory and PCM together. IBM suggests that the operating system of mobile devices can be stored on PCM for enabling a phone or a tablet to start in just a few seconds.

IBM explains that crystal-based storage has been used for about 15 years, but the storage density, not to mention the cost of the technology, has been a matter of concern for engineers. However, researchers at IBM have found a way to save 3 bits of data per cell, which will increase data capacity dramatically. In 2011, IBM researchers found a way to store 2 bits of data on a PCM cell.

"Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry," says Pozidis. "Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash."

Existing laptops and smartphones use a couple of technologies for storing data: flash memory, which is cheap but slow, and the other is DRAM (dynamic random access memory), which is fast yet expensive and power-hungry.

PCM fits between flash memory and DRAM. DRAM is about five to 10 times faster in retrieving data when compared to PCM. However, PCM is about 70 times faster in comparison to flash, which is why a smartphone with PCM technology can load apps faster. IBM suggests that PCM will be cheaper than DRAM, but in the near term the cost of flash may be at par with flash.

Manufacturers have constantly been improving on flash technology, and this is why the storage capacity of devices has increased in the last few years. Matching flash memory will be tough. Apple launched the first-gen iPad in 2010, which had a maximum storage capacity of 64 GB. However, the latest 9.7-inch iPad Pro announced in March is available with a maximum of 256 GB.

IBM highlights that PCM can be significant to mobile devices, but it can also be used in the enterprise space for storing and retrieving large data faster.

Photo: Andrew Cooke | Flickr

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