|The Leading Source for Global News and Information Covering the Ecosystem of High Productivity Computing / November 14, 2007|
Nantero is a nanotechnology company using carbon nanotubes for the development of next-generation semiconductor devices. The company's main focus is the development of NRAM, a high-density nonvolatile random access memory chip using nanotechnology. Nantero expects to deliver a product that will replace all existing forms of memory, such as DRAM, SRAM and flash memory, with a high-density nonvolatile RAM, "universal memory."
We got the opportunity to talk with Nantero CEO and President Greg Schmergel about the new technology and its significance for high performance computing applications.
HPCwire: You're calling NRAM the "universal memory," which suggests that you believe this technology can be applied to all memory applications -- can you describe how this technology will be able to achieve this?
Greg Schmergel: NRAM is based on a nanoelectromechanical switch using carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes have an extremely high tensile strength, and conduct electricity and heat very well. The switch is bi-stable, with the nanotubes being held in the "1" position by van der Waals forces. Due to the low mass of nanotubes, which are being moved a very short distance, the speed of NRAM can rival that of DRAM, while being permanently nonvolatile like flash and consuming very little power. Also very important is the fact that NRAM can be scaled to very small dimensions due to the small size of nanotubes (about a nanometer in diameter), making it a viable technology for many generations to come. Nantero has already fabricated 22nm switches and could go well below that with the requisite lithographic tools.
HPCwire: What are the specific advantages of this technology for high performance computing applications?
Schmergel: There are several advantages. Since NRAM combines high speed with nonvolatility, it will become possible for computers to boot up instantly, without waiting, and also to consume less power during operation. In addition, NRAM's scalability will allow even higher density solid state memory storage. All of the above will provide much more flexibility to designers of high performance computing applications, flexibility which is not possible today since they need to choose between either speed or nonvolatility but not have both.
HPCwire: How would you compare NRAM with other new memory technologies, such as spintronics, MRAM and phase-change memory?
Schmergel: NRAM requires only a small number of new manufacturing steps, all of which use existing tools that are present in any production CMOS fab. So NRAM has few hurdles for integration, either as a standalone memory or as an embedded memory. NRAM's scalability, theoretically down to below 5nm, is also unmatched in technologies that are currently under development in production CMOS fabs, as NRAM is.
HPCwire: When do you think we'll see NRAM technology in commercial products? Do you think the NRAM will have to wait until conventional RAM technology hits its physical limits with the capacitor?
Schmergel: Today's memories will be hitting their physical limits in the foreseeable future, so the right time to begin the movement into the next generation is not far off now. Nantero is a licensing company, so the goal is to work with established manufacturers who will integrate it into their existing fabs and their existing product lines. These licensees will be announcing their own product timelines in the future.
HPCwire: What are the biggest challenges remaining in getting this technology into commercial products?
Schmergel: Nantero's business model is to license the NRAM technology to established manufacturers, and to provide intensive support to them in getting it up and running and integrated into products. The main challenges now include increasing yield on the technical side and signing new partnerships on the strategic side to add to the licensee base. Multiple discussions with potential licensees are underway, both in the embedded space and the standalone memory space, and depending on the level of resource partners apply to standalone memory, it might not come that much further after embedded memory.
Nantero's NRAM was selected as one of the Disruptive Technologies Exhibits at SC07, Nov. 12-16, in Reno, where the company will be showcasing its technology.