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Faster than Flash

“Flash” memory uses so little power that designers have built it into hundreds of portable devices, from digital cameras to handheld computers. But flash memory has its flaws: it’s slow at storing new data, and it wears out after only about a million read/write operations. Now Intel is testing a new kind of memory chip that it says will outpace and outlast flash-and still save power.

The new chip is based on work pioneered by inventor Stanford Ovshinsky, CEO of Rochester Hills, MI-based Energy Conversion Devices. Heat from an electric current switched by a diode alters the electrical resistance of tiny pockets of a germanium-tellurium-antimony alloy on the chip; pockets with changed or unchanged resistance represent digital ones and zeroes. Intel’s latest test version of the chip stores four megabits, lasts through a million times as many operations as flash memory, and writes data a thousand times faster-almost as fast as conventional memory. While Intel researchers say it will be three to five years before the technology finds its way into products, future cameras, handhelds, cell phones and other devices equipped with the new memory could store digital information much faster and more reliably-and might be cheaper, too, since the new memory can be etched onto a silicon wafer right alongside other circuitry.

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