New 'Self-Healing' Flash Memory Devices May Now Live Forever

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By Lawrence Villamar | December 3, 2012 12:17 PM EST

You may now use your flash memory forever, or at least, longer. Engineers from Taiwan has found a solution that enables flash memory to heal itself.

Flash memory is "an electronic non-volatile computer storage device." This portable device can be electrically erased and reprogrammed, but the write-erase cycle degrades the insulation. The more cells in the memory chips are erased, the less useful to store data. Eventually, the flash memory can no longer be used.

"Flash wears out after being programmed and erased about 10,000 times," said the IEEE Spectrum.

Engineers at Macronix, a Taiwan-based manufacturer , proposed a solution that moves flash memory over to a new life: a "self-healing" NAND flash memory. It can survive over 100 million cycles, exponentially extending the utility life of the flash memory.

The NAND flash memory is primarily used in main memory cards in mobile phones and digital cameras. It also used in USB flash drives, solid-state drives and other products for general storage and transfer of data.

The solution from Macronix involves the inclusion of onboard heaters to anneal small groups of memory cells. This approach is more practical than the usual work-around the problem of limited life-span, which is to apply heat. According to the team from Macronix, low baking heat is impractical for operation.

The new approach also involves annealing or heat treatment that causes change int he properties of the material. According to PhyOrg, the approach needs only to apply "a brief jolt of heat to a very restricted area within the chip (800 degrees C) returns the cell to a 'good' state." The process needs only to be employed infrequently and only on one sector at a time, while the device is not in use, though connected to a power source. It also use minimal power input, as it would not drain a cellphone battery.

The new flash memory will not be available to the mass market soon, but Macronix will present the solution at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), that will be held from December 10 to 12 in San Francisco, U.S.

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