Phase Change Memory, a type of optical, non-volatile yet very fast storage within a glass substrate has seen profound breakthrough by IBM. Researchers have been able to successfully demonstrate storing 3-bits per cell. A challenge that has been insurmountable until now and can dramatically increase the storage capacity for the storage type.

IBM Phase Change Memory

IBM’s Phase Change Memory (PCM) could be a game changer

PCM works by applying an electrical current to the glass material, typically a chalcogenide glass, to store a 0 or a 1, while a low voltage current is applied to read back the stored data. This is used in in Blue-Ray discs, though storage sizes have been limited primarily by cost, more than anything. Heat can be applied to store different states in the material, though PCM is actually quite sensitive to heat making that not the most desirable way to store your data. IBM figured out how the material changes and can successfully track that “drift” in states so they can store and retrieve data in three different states without issue. They demonstrated this at elevated temperatures after 1 million endurance cycles, to ensure the data was truly retrievable. And it was.

“Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry,” said Dr. Haris Pozidis, an author of the paper and the manager of non-volatile memory research at IBM Research – Zurich. And this new discovery makes it very interesting and even could make it viable for use in server environments, where both those properties, and especially the delightful increase in read/write speeds and sustained I/O operations could be very useful. Unfortunately it’s not quite ready for prime time, but the technology is evolving rather quickly, and because of the relative low cost of the substance used to store data, it could amount to cheap speedy storage and RAM for everyone.

IBM Phase Change Memory

How Phase Change Memory works