Congratulations to Suhas Kumar, John Paul Strachan, and R. Stanley Williams of Hewlett Packard Labs in Palo Alto for showing not just how to make a Mott memristor, but that you can create controlled chaos with one. “We showed that this type of memristor can generate chaotic and nonchaotic signals,” says Williams, who invented the memristor based on theory by Leon Chua. An analysis of the material science and engineering of titanium sub-oxides as practiced by Williams at HPL for the production of standard memristors can be found in one of my old blog posts (http://www.betasights.net/wordpress/?p=1006).
Cross-section TEM of a Mott memristor composed of 8nm niobium dioxide layer between top layer of titanium nitride and bottom pillar of titanium nitride. (Original Image: Suhas Kumar/Hewlett Packard Labs, color commentary by Ed Korczynski)
The Figure shows a cross-section of a single Mott memristors formed by the region of the 8nm thin niobium dioxide (NbO2) layer that is between the 70nm diameter titanium-nitride (TiN) pillar functioning as bottom electrode and the blanket TiN layer functioning as top electrode.
Such a device exhibits both current-controlled and temperature-controlled (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mott_transition) negative differential resistance, and the proper choice of current and temperature can result in what I like to term “repeatable” chaos. It is repeatable in that a state can be controlably placed into or out-of chaos using non-linearities in electrical current-flow and temperature. From the abstract of the original article in Nature:
We incorporate these memristors into a relaxation oscillator and observe a tunable range of periodic and chaotic self-oscillations. We show that the nonlinear current transport coupled with thermal fluctuations at the nanoscale generates chaotic oscillations. Such memristors could be useful in certain types of neural-inspired computation by introducing a pseudo-random signal that prevents global synchronization and could also assist in finding a global minimum during a constrained search.
In a simulated circuit, an array of Mott memristors can be integrated with standard memristors to form a simulated Hopfield network (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopfield_network). Hopfield nets seem to be some of the most apt models for human memory, so if we can just wire together a sufficient number of NbO Mott memristors with TiO standard memristors then we might be a step closer to functional AI.
As a reminder, cross-bar ReRAM devices function by voltage-driven pulses creating resistance changes in some material. The cross-bars allow for reading and writing all the bits in a word-string in a manner similar to Flash arrays.
In complete contrast, Phase Change Memory (PCM) cells—as per the name—rely upon the change between crystalline and amorphous material phases to alter resistance. The standard way to change phases is with thermal energy from an integrated set of heater elements. The standard PCM architecture also requires one transistor for each memory cell in a manner similar to DRAM arrays.
Then we have the OUM variant of PCM as previously branded by Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) and affiliated shell-campanies founded by tap-dancer-extraordinaire Stanford Ovshinsky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_R._Ovshinsky). So-called “Ovonic” PCM cells see phase-changes driven by voltage pulses without separate heater elements, such that from a circuit architecture perspective they are cross-bar ReRAMs.
So, years of R&D and JVs are behind the XPoint Optane(TM) SSDs. They are cross-bar architecture ReRAM arrays of PCM materials, and had the term not been ruined by 17-years of over-promising and under-delivering they would likely have been called OUM chips. Many others tried and failed, but Intel/Micron finally figured out how to make commercial gigabit-scale cross-bar NVMs using OUM arrays. Now they just have to yield the profits…
Total investment in XMC/YRST by Tsinghua Unigroup is reported by Digitimes to be US$24 billion. In 2015 Tsinghua Unigroup bid US$23 billion to buy Micron Technology Corp, but the company was not for sale.
IM Flash pre-announced “3D XPoint”(TM) memory for release later this year, and lack of details has led to widespread confusion regarding what it is. EETimes has reported that, “Chalcogenide material and an Ovonyx switch are magic parts of this technology with the original work starting back in the 1960’s,” said Guy Blalock, co-CEO of IM Flash at the 2016 Industry Strategy Symposium hosted by the SEMI trade group. However, contradicting industry terminology conventions, in another article EETimes reported that a spokesperson for Intel has said that, “3D XPoint should not be described as ReRAM.”
First promoted by the master of materials solutions-looking-for-problems Sanford Ovshinsky under the name “Ovonic” trademark, chalcogenide materials form glassy structures with meta-stable properties. With proper application of heat and electrical current, chalcogenides can be made to switch between low-resistivity crystalline and high-resistivity amorphous phases to create Phase-Change Memory (PCM) arrays in silicon circuit architectures. Chalcogenides can also function as the matrix for the diffusion of silver ions in a cross-point device architecture to create a digital “Resistive RAM” (or “ReRAM” or “RRAM”), or create an analog memristor for neuromorphic applications as explored by Prof. Kris Campbell of Boise State in collaboration with Knowm.
Hitachi and Renesas Technology developed Phase-Change Memory (PCM) cell technology employing Ta2O5 interfacial layer to enable low-power operation. (Source: Hitachi)
The Figure shows a schematic cross-section of a typical PCM cell. From a scientific perspective, we could say that any memory cell that relies upon a change in material phase to encode digital data should be termed a PCM. However, due to the history of this specific type of PCM device being the only architecture explored for decades (and commercialized for limited niche sub-markets), and due to the fundamentally different circuit architectures, it is reasonable to categorically deny that any cross-point device is a “PCM.”
However, any cross-point memory device based on a resistance change has to be a ReRAM regardless of the switching phenomenon: phase-change, filament-growth, ion-diffusion, etc. So we could say that this new chip uses PCM material in a ReRAM device. —E.K.
The Intel/Micron joint-venture now claims to have successfully integrated a Resistive-RAM (ReRAM) made with an unannounced material in a cross-point architecture, switching using an undisclosed mechanism. Pilot production wafers are supposed to be moving through the Lehi fab, and samples to customers are promised by end of this year. HP Labs announced great results in 2010 on prototype ReRAM using titania without the need for a forming step, and then licensed the technology to Hynix with plans to bring a cross-point ReRAM to market by 2013. SanDisk/Toshiba have been working on ReRAM as an eventual replacement for NAND Flash for many years, with though a bi-layer 32Gb cross-point ReRAM was shown at ISSCC in 2013 they have so far not announced production.
Let us hope that the folks in Lehi have succeeded where HP/Hynix and SanDisk/Toshiba among others have so far failed in bringing a cross-point ReRAM to market…so this may be a “breakthrough” but it’s by no means “revolutionary.” Until the Intel/Micron legal teams decide that they can disclose what material is changing resistance and by what mechanism (including whether an electrical “forming” step is needed), the best we can do is speculate as to even how much of a breakthrough this represents. —E.K.
Bismuth-ferrite could make spin-valves that use 1/10th the power of STT
A research team led by folks at Cornel University (along with University of California, Berkeley; Tsinghua University; and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) have discovered how to make a single-phase multiferroic switch out of bismuth ferrite (BiFeO3) as shown in an online letter toNature. Multiferroics, allowing for the control of magnetism with an electric field, have been investigated as a potential solid-state memory cell for many years but this is the first time that reversible room-temperature switching has been reportedly achieved at room temperature. Most importantly, the energy per unit area required to switch these new cells is approximately an order of magnitude less than that needed for spin-transfer torque (STT) switching.
“The advantage here is low energy consumption,” said Cornell postdoctoral associate John Heron, in a press release. “It requires a low voltage, without current, to switch it. Devices that use currents consume more energy and dissipate a significant amount of that energy in the form of heat.”
The trick that Heron and others discovered involves a two-step sequence of partial switching events—using only applied voltages—that add up to full magnetic reversal. Previous theory had shown that single-step switching was thermodynamically impossible, and no other groups had reported work on similar two-step switching. Also published in the News & Views section of Nature is “Materials science: Two steps for a magnetoelectric switch” written by other researchers, which explores the possibilities of using this phenomenon in nanoscale memory chips.
While the thermodynamics of all of this seem incredibly positive, the kinetics of this two-step process have yet to be reported. Also, the effect seems to require specific crystal stuctures such as that of SrRuO3 in a particular orientation as electrical contacts, instead of the inherently less-expensive randomly oriented metal contacts to STT cells. Consequently, this could be inherently slow and expensive technology, and thus limited to niche applications.