International Business Machines Corp and German chip maker Infineon Technologies AG on Tuesday said they have taken an important step toward developing a new kind of memory that could enable computers to boot up instantaneously.
IBM said that the magnetic random access memory technology, or MRAM, could replace existing forms of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM -- which is the most popular form of computer memory -- as early as 2005.
But it also acts like so-called "flash" memory and retains information when power is turned off, which means that it could replace flash, as well. With MRAM, a personal computer could turn on almost immediately, like a light switch, IBM said.
Unlike current versions of computer memory found in everything from PCs to handheld computers, MRAM uses magnetic charges rather than electrical charges to store memory.
The move comes as the industry is looking for better ways to make handheld computers and cell phones so that they can handle data more efficiently, one analyst said. Handheld computers and cell phones have been taking on new functions as the telecommunication systems that carry data have improved.
"I think everyone in the industry is desperate for a universal memory technology that can meet the challenges that the various types of memory do today," said Richard Gordon, an analyst at market research firm Gartner Inc.
IBM, of Armonk, New York, has been working on developing MRAM since the 1970s and continued that research even after it exited the business of making memory chips. It said it hopes to have some demo products that use the chips out next year.
"It really demonstrates that there is technical feasibility. We can get the performance, we can get the cell size," said Randy Isaac, vice president of strategic alliances at IBM. IBM's memory cell is 1.4 microns, or about 20 million times smaller than the top of a pencil eraser.
IBM is presenting the development at the VLSI Symposia in Kyoto, Japan on Tuesday. Other companies studying MRAM include Toshiba Corp, Motorola Inc and NEC Corp.
Infineon, based in Munich, has its US operations in San Jose, California.