Phase-change memory could change everything

I won’t call it a revolution, because I wrongly predicted that RISC (in the form of DEC Alpha and Motorola/IBM Power PC) would start a revolution. But Micron released a new form of memory this week that promises to at least be a game-changer.

It’s non-volatile like the flash memory in your cell phone, digital camera, or SSD, but with a longer life expectancy, and it’s much faster. It’s fast enough to potentially use it for system memory, as well as storage.

So I expect, at the very least, PCM will result in faster, longer-lasting SSDs. We’re going to have to find another way to connect our storage, because the SATA bus isn’t going to be able to
keep up.

But it also has the potential to change the architecture of the typical computer. Since it’s nonvolatile and fast enough to serve as system memory, potentially a system could power down and still maintain its state. That’s good and bad–reboots won’t give a clean start anymore, but on the other hand, you could shut your system down, then have it power back up right where it started. The savings in power consumption could be tremendous. Suddenly it becomes entirely practical to shut the system down during your 30-minute lunch break in
the middle of the workday, for example.

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