High heat helps 'heal' flash memory chips

USB drive Flash memory is widely used in USB and solid-state drives

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A brief jolt of 800C heat can stop flash memory wearing out, researchers in Taiwan have found.

Flash memory is widely used in computers and electronic gadgets because it is fast and remembers data written to it even when unpowered.

However, flash memory reliability suffers significantly after about 10,000 write and read cycles.

Using heat, the researchers have found a way to "heal" flash memory materials to make them last 100 million cycles.

Hot chip

Heat has long been known to help heal degraded materials in old flash memory. But because the heat healing process meant baking the memory chip in an oven at 250C for hours, few saw it as a practical solution.

Researchers at electronics company Macronix have found a way around this by re-designing chips to put a heater alongside the memory material that holds the data.

In a paper due to be presented at the International Electron Devices Meeting 2012, the Macronix researchers said their onboard heater applied a jolt of heat to small groups of memory cells. Briefly heating those locations to about 800C returned damaged memory locations to full working order.

The re-designed memory chip was safe, they said, because very small areas were being heated for only a few milliseconds. The process also consumed small amounts of power so should not significantly reduce battery life on portable gadgets, they said.

Tests carried out by Macronix on the novel memory chips shows that they can last at least 100 million write and read cycles. The true upper limit of their reliability has not been plumbed, the researchers told IEEE Spectrum, because it takes weeks to write and read data tens of millions of times, even to fast memory chips. Testing for billions of cycles would take "months", said the researchers.

Macronix said it planned to capitalise on its research but gave no date for when the improved flash memory might start appearing in gadgets.

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