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RRAM Storage for Terabytes on Smartphones

Data storage grows day by day as the world continues to entrust their digital memories to their devices. Never has this been truer in the age of the smartphone; a device that many of us carry with us wherever we go, the smartphone likely holds many important files. Whether they are cherished family photos, important business documents or your favourite music albums, your smartphone is a great device that can handle all types of data.

There is a problem, though. The demand and increase in data shows no signals that it’ll be slowing down any time soon. But our current handheld devices just aren’t capable of storing all this data. At least, not internally. For there is a rise in cloud storage, with many providers offering their own service, but if you have a poor signal or limited data usage then this is no good when on-the-go. There are microSDs, but there are caveats here too. Not only do some smartphones simply not have slots for expandable storage, some apps require being stored on the internal storage, thus using up your precious space.

As it stands, internal storage on smartphones needs to be vastly improved. Well, a new type of storage could, in theory, solve these issues.

Researchers at Rice University have been working on resistive random access memory. Fabrication usually means there’s a need for high temperatures or voltages, thus production is tricky and costly. But the university researchers have found a way to create RRAM that operates at room temperature and uses lower voltages.

RRAM stores bits of data using resistance, unlike flash memory which uses transistors. Layers of RRAM can also be stacked in order to increase the amount of data that can be stored on a chip. Not only that, but it’s a hundred times faster than flash memory. A current prototype is able to store a terabyte of data on the chip the size of a postal stamp.

James Tour is a professor of materials science at Rice University and it was he who led the research. “Why don’t you have all the movies you would like on your iPhone? It’s not because you wouldn’t like to, it’s because you don’t have room,” he said.

Some companies are moving towards RRAM being in everyday products. One such company is Crossbar who plans to use RRAM in embedded chips, like those found in coffee machines. There also plans to license the technology to large memory manufacturers.

The process to creating the RRAM is to have a layer of silicon dioxide full of small holes. This layer is then put in between two thin layers of metal, acting as electrodes. A voltage is then applied and this forces the metal into the holes, thus creating an electrical connection. Another voltage is then applied, this time causing a break to form in the metal and then silicon to form the gap.

Wei Lu, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, said that the work is a “major step forward” and that “while you can get many materials to switch, making a product is a completely different story.”

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