Heat blast can help ‘heal’ flash memory chips

Researchers in Taiwan have found that a brief jolt of 800C heat can stop flash memory wearing out. While flash memory is used in computers and electronic gadgets because it is fast and remembers data written to it even when unpowered it can become increasingly unreliable after about 10,000 write and read cycles. Using heat, the researchers from the electronics company Macronic have found a way to “heal” flash memory materials to make them last 100 million cycles.

For a long time heat has been known to help heal degraded materials in old flash memory but the process involved baking memory chips in an oven at 250C for hours, which was seen as neither a practical solution or economic.

The researchers at Macronix have re-designed chips to put a heater alongside the memory material that holds the data.

In a paper to the International Electron Devices Meeting 2012, the 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.

Tests carried out by Macronix on these new memory chips shows that they can last at least 100 million write and read cycles.

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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