MRAM (Magnetic RAM) is closer to becoming a reality, as Motorola
says it will start shipping samples next year, with commercial production slated to begin in 2004.

MRAM is next-generation, non-volatile memory, which stores data by applying magnetic fields that cause certain materials to enter one of two magnetic states. That state is maintained without needing any power input — so-called non-volatile memory. By contrast, volatile memory technologies like DRAM use an electric charge to store data and need to be continually refreshed to maintain their state.

The benefit of such no-power memory is that is can provide devices like mobile phones and portable computers with large memory capacity without draining battery life.

Motorola has already unveiled a prototype 1Mb MRAM chip, joining an earlier 256Kb prototype also produced by the company.

MRAM is first expected to replace more expensive non-volatile memory types such as flash in mobile applications and to also eventually supplant the volatile memory types like SRAM (static RAM) and DRAM (dynamic RAM) in other applications such as desktop PCs.

One principal benefit of MRAM is cost. While it is still too early to tell what kind of yield chip makers will be able to get, MRAM will be produced using standard CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) technology like that used to make DRAM, making MRAM cheaper to produce than other non-volatile memory types, such as flash, which require specialised CMOS technology.

MRAM technology is currently under development by several leading chip makers, including IBM, Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.