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What is NRAM?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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NRAM, short for nano-RAM or nanotube-based/nonvolatile random access memory, is a new memory storage technology owned by the company Nantero. The technology blends together tiny carbon nanotubes with conventional semiconductors. Because the memory-containing elements, nanotubes, are so small, NRAM technology will achieve very high memory densities: at least 10-100 times our current best. NRAM will operate electromechanically rather than just electrically, setting it apart from other memory technologies as a nonvolatile form of memory, meaning data will be retained even when the power is turned off. The creators of the technology claim it has the advantages of all the best memory technologies with none of the disadvantages, setting it up to be the universal medium for memory in the future.

Carbon nanotubes are small tubes of carbon atoms, only a few nanometers wide -- 1/100,000th the width of a human hair. The wall of a carbon nanotube is composed of a single carbon atom. Nanotubes are as rigid as diamond and conduct electricity as well as copper. In recent years, the cost of mass-producing nanotubes has plummeted.

By creating a thin "fabric" of nanotubes and arranging them in junctions on a silicon wafer embedded with conventional circuitry, a hybrid electro-mechanical memory system can be created. A nanotube configured in one position would indicate a 1, and in another position could indicate a 0. Manufacturing begins when a thin layer of nanotubes are spread across the surface of the wafer, then functionally unnecessary nanotubes are removed using conventional lithography techniques.

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Mass-produced NRAM could supplant DRAM (dynamic RAM), SRAM (static RAM), flash memory, and eventually hard disk storage itself. It will lead to "instant-on" computers, and PDA-sized devices with upwards of 10GB of memory. Because nanotubes are so sturdy and the basis underlying their operation is mechanical, NRAM devices would be highly resistant to wear and tear, including heat, cold, and magnetism. They would also lead to instant-on devices and replace two popular types of RAM in use today -- flash RAM and DRAM. Because the functional elements in NRAM technology are nanometer-sized, NRAM qualifies as nanotechnology in the general sense, but not molecular nanotechnology (molecular manufacturing), because the nanometer-sized elements are not capable of manufacturing additional products to atomic precision.

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chivebasil
Post 5

I have been hearing for years about all the advantages of nano technology. There are some pretty utopian scenarios in which nano technology is the solution to just about every problem that ails out society. They will cure all our worst diseases, expand the capacity of our minds and bodies, advance our technological capabilities exponentially and lead to all kinds of innovations and advances that we can't even conceive of yet. It seems that NRAM is just one more piece of this puzzle.

I hope that all these optimists are right. I can see the advantages but I can also see all the disadvantages. Those utopian scenarios give way to distopian scenarios pretty quickly. It will take a significant amount of restraint and an acute awareness of scientific ethics if we are going to make this technology work. I have hope for the future with just a little bit of reservation.

tigers88
Post 4

Wow, this sounds like an incredible technology. I understand in principle how this would work but I am sure there is a significant dimension to my ignorance on this one. The idea that memory is a chemical substance just amazes me. This seems like technology that is approaching the complexity of the brain.

I can also see all the benefits that would come from being able to exponentially increase the amount of memory. Every great jump in computing power has been directly linked to storage capacity. The more information that is immediately accessible the more power your computer has. Lets hope that this technology continues to improve and that the cost continues to decline. If it is too expensive no one will want to work with it.

backdraft
Post 3

@anon81434 - This article makes it sound like NRAM will be available in just a few years and that the technology is flawless. You hint at some problems that mights not be addressed in the article. Can you talk about the realities of this technology? It sounds like an incredible step forward but maybe there are challenges that have not been discussed. I am not a computer person at all so I could really use a knowledgeable perspective on this.

anon81434
Post 2

Don't hold your breath. I've been watching this for six years, and not a lot has changed. To get the universal benefits stated needs production process capabilities that are not yet available.

Expect a slow introduction over a decade or so.

anon10661
Post 1

When will it come out?

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