"Paying Our Dues" Paid off with PCM

By Paolo Cappelletti - 2013-01-21

“I commend Micron for being able to put silicon down and show volume production of PCM. This blows naysayers away—of which I was one—and shows that the technology can work. It also drives home the lesson that you must pay your dues in terms of development and production time—including the ability to work around a variety of issues like thermal disturb—to achieve a good, production-ready, innovative design.” 

- Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research 

In December, we announced our second phase change memory (PCM) product, a 512Mb part made with our proprietary 45nm PCM technology, and confirmed we’re shipping high volumes of our first PCM product, the 1Gb part, to Nokia.

It doesn’t happen very often that a radically new technology starts to play a significant role in the highly competitive memory field. The last time that happened was the introduction of NAND Flash more than 10 years ago, and 10 years prior to that, the introduction of NOR Flash.

Web-Feet Research CEO Alan Nieble, who definitely has a long experience with and deep understanding of memory, especially nonvolatile memory, has recognized that we are at an inflection point in the history of long-awaited emerging technologies. He commended Micron for making it happen with PCM.

But Alan has captured an important point—it is always true that “you must pay your dues in terms of development and production time,” even when progressing from one node to the next node on a memory roadmap. But when it’s time to move from an evolutionary innovation to a revolutionary innovation, the dues are far higher.

It’s radical change of paradigm. As far as discontinuity, the distance of PCM from any conventional nonvolatile memory is orders of magnitude larger than, for instance, the gap between NOR Flash and NAND Flash, or between planar NAND and 3D NAND.

For more than 40 years, engineers and designers have been playing with electronic devices, charge storage, potential barriers, electric fields, and electrical capacitances. The 10 years Micron has spent on phase change memory was invested in learning how to work with thermal devices, phase transition, latent heat, heat diffusion, and thermal capacitances. We basically had to change our mindset—from electronic engineering to phonon engineering.

And…we made it!

That we can now produce PCM in high volumes, with industry-standard yield, high performance, and high reliability, is thanks to the huge effort and the long hours our engineers spent digging into material properties, physical mechanisms, and process details to build a solid understanding that could be translated into design and manufacturing skills.

You are perfectly right, Alan—we had to pay our own dues! But we’re proud that we reached the finish line first.

"Paying Our Dues" Paid off with PCM 

Paolo Cappelletti