Preprint Essay Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Material and Design Challenges in Phase Change Memory

Version 1 : Received: 25 September 2020 / Approved: 28 September 2020 / Online: 28 September 2020 (11:20:26 CEST)

How to cite: Ng, W. Material and Design Challenges in Phase Change Memory. Preprints 2020, 2020090686 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202009.0686.v1). Ng, W. Material and Design Challenges in Phase Change Memory. Preprints 2020, 2020090686 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202009.0686.v1).


Together with display and input, storage and processing are requisite to computing. While storage technologies have improved tremendously in capacity and speed over the years, the basic principles enabling information storage into digital 1 and 0 remains the same: induction of phase change in the storage substrate. But recently, there has been much research into structural phase change material (SPCM) and exploration of its possible use in various types of memory storage applications. Despite unconventional use of structural change between amorphous and crystalline state as well as that between crystal structures for encoding information, key barriers for its widespread use remains access speed, capacity to cost ratio, and fidelity of storage. Hence, given the performance requirement of SPCM for memory applications, what are the material and design considerations that feed into translating a promising application into a practical reality? Given the important role of kinetic and thermal energy in structural organization of a phase change material, precise characterization of structural change in the material with external physical factors such as heat, voltage and current, is critical for storage material design. Next comes the precision at which individual memory cells for storing single bits of information could be defined reproducibly and at high fidelity using SPCM. In congruent with memory cell definition lies the equally important aspect of constraining the field characteristics used in modulating the phase state of the memory medium. Specifically, while heat is useful for mediating the “melting” of a crystalline material into its amorphous state, heat conduction is less useful for transferring the “switch command” from the effector to the memory material. More importantly, choice of structural phase change material for memory applications likely revolves around those where individual memory cells could be defined in a cross array format, which is amenable to high density information storage. Durability and fidelity of information storage are additional factors of design that favours selection of SPCM with phase change occurring at narrow operating windows without hysteresis over extended cycling. But, the most important requirement is speed of access. To this end, energetic cost of phase transitions might affect operation of the phase change memory at the system level: for example, usage of large current for high energy transition step may impact on device durability. Ultimately, there is a fundamental limit on the number of reproducible phase transitions in a SPCM before fidelity of information storage is no longer guaranteed. Hence, what are the drivers for uptake of phase change memories in consumer devices? Performance gains must be realized in access speed, storage capacity, form factor, and fidelity of information storage for practical application of structural phase change memories.

Subject Areas

phase change material; amorphous; crystalline; operating window; speed of access; fidelity of storage; energetic cost

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