Chipping in intelligence
THE world's latest advance in chip technology is Ferro- electric Ceramics. If put in an integrated circuit, these new chip, capacitors ensure that weak batteries or a loose Ac plug do not wipe out data stores on computers. Ferro- electric Ceramics, besides shrinking the capacitor volume, can "remember" data for more than 10 years after power is removed.
The Ferroelectric replacement - a ceramic that stores electricity better than ordinary semiconductor capacitors - eliminates bulky capacitors on chips, making room for millions of additional memory cells or other circuits. Ordinary chip capacitors need a constant source of electricity to store data; weak batteries or loose Ac plugs wipe out memories.
These new nonvolatile memory chips are already in use in computers, consumer electronic, avionics, satellites, cars, communications, and more. As memory density - the number of digital Is and Os a chip can store - grows, applications will range from solid-state replacements for slow power-hungry disk drives to the chip equivalents of compact audio disks.
As ferroelectric memory capacities grow, they may revolutionise computer architecture. Nonvolatile semiconductor memories could replace the RAM (volatile random access memory), magnetic disks, and tapes used in some computers, leaving only optical tapes or disks for permanent archival storage of data. But the ceramic gradually loses its memory ability, so tasks demanding constant high-speed switching still aren't practical.
The ferroelectric effect was first recognised in 1921. Memories made with thick ferroelectric-ceramic films in the 1950s and 1960s failed because of several limitations and technical problems. In the early 1970s, us researchers George Rohrer and Larry McMillan patented a method of forming thin ferroelectric films atop semiconductors.
In 1988, a 256-bit memory chip with 10 years or more data retention was invented. Most computers have readomly memory (ROm) volatile chips - data without_power. are factory programmed: one can't write new them. A variation, mable ROMS or PROMS, do-it-yourself, but able. An era'iable non- retaining ROms data into program- are uneras- program- mable type or EPROM, traps electrical charges for nonvolatilify, but needs long exposure to ultraviolet light to be erased. There is also an electrically erasable chip or EEPROM.
Volatile RAMS are of various types. Widely used and inexpensive dynamic RAms, or DRAMS, store electrical charges in capacitors. Static RAMS, or SRAMs, can substitute capacitors and "remember" by circulating a current through I of 2 transistor groups. These power-efficient mathines can be used for electronic pocket memos or cameras.
Yet, ferroelectroniC RAM (FRAM) combines the best of these memory groups. This is the world's first tru( nonvolatile read-write RAM; the technology fits with almost all semiconductot applications. The FRAm technology provides a simpler, lower-cost memory because it has a 1 -transistor cell rather than the 4 transistors generally today.
Besides permanently storing data after power is removed, ferroelectronics can shrink the size and complexity of memory circuits, because the ceramic is about 1,000 times better at storing electricity than the material used in conventional DRAMS.
All this help the database access time to increase by about 100,000 times. instead of waiting many minutes for a spread sheet to be updated on a Pc, or waiting indefinitely on the phone for a plane or hotel reservation to be booked, response would come instantly. as soon as you hit that last keystroke.
In space and defence technologies, too, ferroelectronics can help store backup computer programmes in bulky magnetic core memories. The new chips may also be used in paging systems or cellular phones. Experts say that, by AD 2bOO, these chips will store I gigabit, that is, more than I billion bits of information.