PHASE-CHANGE MEMORY is, possibly along with Memristors, one of the holy grails of future memory technology. The original promise of non-volatile, lightning-quick RAM has over the course of time been replaced with a more down-to-earth approach - a fast storage medium akin to SSD drives.
This is precisely what a team of University of California San Diego (UCSD) researchers has been working on. Using kit from Micron Technology, the team has built a prototype phase-change memory (PCM) storage array called the "Onyx". Similar to an SSD drive, Onyx is a data storage device and the first benchmarks of it show how it outperforms commercially available server-grade SSDs by as much as 120 per cent in small block operations.
Onyx is a PCIe card equipped with phase-change memory from Micron Technology and a FPGA controller. The Onyx prototype can currently store a total of 10GB of data although only 8GB are usable, while the remainder is reserved for error correction - yes, that's 20 per cent. Still, the team has put the Onyx on the test bench and compared it to an 80GB FusionIO drive, which is just about the fastest SSD silicon out there.
According to the published data, preliminary tests on the prototype have yielded better than expected results, that is, a victory over FusionIO and its enterprise solution in small block writes. The Onyx soundly whacks FusionIO in read throughput and it performs even better when dealing with smaller blocks. When it comes to writes, the Onyx dominates the smaller block sizes but falls behind its competitor overall when large block writes are also factored in. The thing is, though, we're talking about first generation silicon, as opposed to the more mature NAND Flash SSDs that already abound.
The team promises that there is plenty of room with this phase-change technology for growth and higher performance.
To put things in perspective, the first generation of Onyx technology can deliver 1.1GB/s of read throughput and 470MB/s of write throughput. It also has lower CPU overhead than a regular SSD, which will either free up the CPU for other tasks or lower overall system power consumption. The team expects a second generation of PCM prototypes to come out within the next six to nine months with better results. µ
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