You hit the power button on your television and it instantly comes to life. But do the same thing with your computer and you have to wait a few minutes while it goes through its boot-up sequence. Why can't we have a computer that turns on as instantly as a television or radio? IBM, in cooperation with Infineon, is promising to launch a new technology in the next few years that will eliminate the boot-up process. Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) has the potential to store more data, access that data faster and use less power than current memory technologies.

Photo courtesy IBM
IBM researcher Stuart Parkin used this sputtering machine to create magnetic tunnel junctions, a key to MRAM technology.

If IBM can make MRAM chips small enough and cheap enough, this new technology could be in computers, cell phones and games by 2004. The key to MRAM is that, as its name suggests, it uses magnetism rather than electrical power to store data. This is a major leap from dynamic RAM (DRAM), the most common type of memory in use today, which requires a continuous supply of electricity and is terribly inefficient.

At a time when power is at a premium and electric bills are soaring, MRAM threatens to replace not only dynamic RAM, but also Flash memory. In this edition of How Stuff Will Work, we'll examine the impact MRAM will have on the electronics industry, and find out why it has taken IBM 30 years to develop this technology.

Computer Memory Series