UltraRAM: Volatile memory and storage merged into a single component

In April 2021 we published an article in which we briefly explained what UltraRAM memory is and what the basic principles that regulate its operation are. With UltraRAM we want to introduce the concept of universal memory taking the best of the peculiar characteristics of DRAM and flash to create a non-volatile storage device capable of offering top-level performance. Merging RAM and storage is not a new idea and if you think about it something similar has been done with Intel Optanea technology which for various reasons has not proved particularly successful and is no longer supported even in the new Xeon processors.

Because UltraRAM promises to be a winning technology

The British researchers who designed and developed the technology UltraRAM have announced the creation of a spinout company that is, a company born from an offshoot of Lancaster University to commercialize internally developed technology. The company is called QuInAs Technology and to this day it has continued to develop, refine and test the new UltraRAM memory. There is a detailed description on the UltraRAM.tech website presentation of the technology and how an academic study turned into a commercial product.

Academics from the Department of Physics and Engineering at Lancaster University first described their invention as “a technology that combines the non-volatility of a data storage memory such as flash with the speed, energy efficiency and durability of a DRAM“.

The materials used to produce UltraRAM are the same compound semiconductors that are used in optoelectronic devices such as LED, laser, photodiode and phototransistor. The “breakthrough” is to improve performance by using silicon substrates instead of gallium arsenide wafers which can be up to 1000 times more expensive.

The idea developed by the physics teacher Manus Hayne uses the so-called quantum resonant tunnelling in compound semiconductors, materials commonly used in devices such as LEDs, laser diodes and infrared detectors but not in digital electronics, the “fiefdom” of silicon.

Reliable, fast and non-volatile UltraRAM

Thanks to being one Non-volatile RAM, UltraRAM can store data without requiring power while maintaining the performance of today’s SDRAM. According to researchers from across the Channel, there are a lot of UltraRAM memories reliable: they estimate preservation times of even more than 1000 years. Furthermore, i lab test they highlighted that UltraRAM supports more than 107 cycles program/erase without showing any problems.

The promoters of UltraRAM explain that the merit would be attributable to the use of a structure triple-barrier resonant tunneling (TBRT): plays a similar role to the oxide layer of NAND flash but, according to the Lancaster University team, maximizes the lifetime of data retention.

UltraRAM is charge-based memory that uses a floating gate, similar to NAND flash. As in flash, the state of charge of the floating gate is read non-destructively by measuring the conductivity of the underlying “channel”. However, unlike flash, UltraRAM does not suffer usury during the cycles program/erase precisely by virtue of the TBRT structure adopted.

This potentially revolutionary technology would have at least 4,000 times the endurance of NAND, a tenth of the latency of traditional DRAMs and aenergy efficiency higher by a factor of 100, always taking as reference a DRAM based on a similar production node. This is why industry giants like Meta have already expressed their keen interest.

Initially patented in the US, additional patents on UltraRAM technology are currently being filed in major markets around the world.

A technology already awarded before arriving on the market

Meanwhile, the inventors of UltraRAM have already received an award in the framework of ICURe Exploit, a program that the UK Innovation Agency promotes to help researchers commercialize their innovations. The allocation of funds will soon be officially announced by QuInAs Technology.

Al Flash Memory Summit of August 2023, furthermore, the promoters of UltraRAM technology won a award for the “most innovative flash memory startup“.

At this point, thanks also to the incoming funding, UltraRAM developers are committed to testing nanoscale devices to further optimize performance, efficiency and durability; collaborate with investors and take the first steps towards small-scale production.

Samsung, Kioxia and Western Digital are also planning an integration similar to the one proposed with UltraRAM, focusing on XL-FLASH technology for future enterprise and consumer storage solutions. So far, however, no company has been able to create a successful commercial product.

The mechanism of caching exploited in flash memory, it has been used for some time to improve the performance of hard disks and slower drives. All current SSD they also have an additional cache, small in size, but very fast: hence the idea of ​​combining everything into a single very component near the processor.


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