November 24, 2013 2:00 am JST

DRAM's days numbered as Japan-US chip alliance homes in on MRAM

TOKYO (Nikkei) -- More than 20 Japanese and U.S. semiconductor-related companies are teaming up to develop a mass production method for next-generation memory chips. For the average consumer, it boils down to this: Mobile devices will get a lot faster.

     On the Japanese side, the project will involve major players like Tokyo Electron, the world's third-biggest manufacturer of chipmaking equipment; Shin-Etsu Chemical, the top silicon wafer maker: chipmaker Renesas Electronics; and electronics conglomerate Hitachi. On the American side, a key participant will be Micron Technology, the world's No. 2 producer of DRAM chips -- the current standard.

     The companies will dispatch a few dozen researchers to Tohoku University in northern Japan. Led by Tetsuo Endoh, a professor at the university, the team will start development in February. The plan is to encourage other U.S. and European companies to join the project as well.  

     The new type of memory is called magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM. It offers 10 times the capacity and 10 times the writing speed of DRAM, as dynamic random access memory is known.

     MRAM also sucks one-third the amount of power. Installing it in smartphones and tablet computers would significantly improve performance and, in the case of the phones, increase standby time from dozens of hours to a few hundred. 

     By coming together on the basics -- materials, circuit line width, fabrication processes -- the companies aim to accelerate development and cement the technology by the fiscal year through March 2017. Micron hopes to be using the group's mass production method by 2018. 

     The beginning of the MRAM era looks like a matter of time. Japan's Toshiba is also working on the technology with South Korea's SK Hynix; Samsung Electronics is pushing ahead with MRAM, too.

     Micron also has Japan's Elpida Memory under its umbrella. All told, chipmakers controlling 90% of the global market are shifting to MRAM.