updated 04:20 pm EDT, Wed July 16, 2008
Long-life Flash memory
A new type of flash memory is being developed, according to today's reports, which not only takes up less space and uses less electricity than the current flash memory technology, but also lasts much longer as well. The ferroelectric chips under development by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology as well as the University of Tokyo will outlive current flash memory by a factor of about 10,000. Today's flash memory chips have a life of about 10 years, and can be re-written only an average of 10,000 times.
The practical size of current flash memory chips maxes out at about 20 nanometers, for durability and service life reasons, among others, with the next generation coming in at 30nm. The prototype ferroelectric NAND flash memory the scientists are developing can be scaled down to 10nm, and that's just at the beginning stages of its development.
Part of the reason the ferroelectric chips last so much longer is their rewriting voltage of less than six volts, as opposed to the higher, near 20 volt rewriting of conventional flash chips. Either technology uses a wear-levelling process where all cells are used equally, and those that wear out are retired, which means flash memory capacity eventually decreases down to nothing, rendering the storage device it's used in useless.
Flash memory, unlike hard drive storage, can be smaller and is more resistant to abuse, as it has no moving parts. For the same reason, flash memory is also faster. It's used in a wide range of devices, from cell phones and portable digital media players, to laptops computers and video game systems.