The UCLA team's improved memory, which they call MeRAM for magnetoelectric random access memory, has great potential to be used in future memory chips for almost all electronic applications, including smart-phones, tablets, computers and microprocessors, as well as for data storage, like the solid-state disks used in computers and large data centers.
MeRAM's key advantage over existing technologies is that it combines extraordinary low energy with very high density, high-speed reading and writing times, and non-volatility—the ability to retain data when no power is applied, similar to hard disk drives and flash memory sticks, but MeRAM is much faster.
Currently, magnetic memory is based on a technology called spin-transfer torque (STT), which uses the magnetic property of electrons—referred to as spin—in addition to their charge. STT utilizes an electric current to move electrons to write data into the memory.
Yet while STT is superior in many respects to competing memory technologies, its electric current–based write mechanism still requires a certain amount of power, which means that it generates heat when data is written into it. In addition, its memory capacity is limited by how close to each other bits of data can be physically placed, a process which itself is limited by the currents required to write information. The low bit capacity, in turn, translates into a relatively large cost per bit, limiting STT's range of applications.
With MeRAM, the UCLA team has replaced STT's electric current with voltage to write data into the memory. This eliminates the need to move large numbers of electrons through wires and instead uses voltage—the difference in electrical potential—to switch the magnetic bits and write information into the memory. This has resulted in computer memory that generates much less heat, making it 10 to 1,000 times more energy-efficient. And the memory can be more than five-times as dense, with more bits of information stored in the same physical area, which also brings down the cost per bit.