The inconvenient but unavoidable truth about flash memory is the fact that individual cells degrade every time they’re written or erased. These cells will burn out eventually, leaving users with dead drives; the only question is how long it will take.
To combat this issue, flash maker Macronix has developed a process that purportedly extends the life of the cells by heating them to extremely high temperatures. The approach uses redesigned memory chips that include tiny heaters capable of cooking the flash at around 800°C. Heating the flash and then letting it cool slowly apparently repairs the cell structure, making it possible to extend the life of the flash past 100 million write-erase cycles. For reference, the MLC NAND in typical solid-state drives is good for less than 10,000 write-erase cycles.
According to Hang-Ting Lue, a Macronix deputy project director quoted by IEEE Spectrum, heating the flash also shortens erase times. Lue says this side effect may enable a “thermally-assisted” mode that can improve both endurance and performance. Heating the flash does consume a “substantial” amount of power, but only short, infrequent bursts are required to repair the flash. Macronix plans to report its findings at the 2012 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting later this month.
The prospect of self repairing flash memory is certainly tantalizing, especially if the endurance measures up to Macronix’s claims. However, it’s unclear how Macronix plans to bring this technology to market or when we could see it deployed in actual products. As shrinking fabrication processes produce flash with shorter lifespans, the interest in such a technology only seems likely to grow. Thanks to Engadget for the tip.