Texas Instruments Eyes Embedded FRAM as Next Generation Non-Volatile Memory Technology

11/8/2002 - Texas Instruments has produced a 64 Megabit Ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) chip within a standard CMOS logic process, validating the technology as a cost-effective alternative to embedded Flash and embedded DRAM in a variety of applications. Embedding memory on the same chip as the processor, peripherals and other components will reduce system chip count and complexity, increase system performance and increase security of the data. TI views FRAM as having advantages over other embedded memory options, including FRAMīs low cost to manufacture and low power consumption. The 64 Megabit FRAM device produced by TI also has the smallest FRAM cells ever reported, a mere 0.54um2.

"Texas Instruments has made a major step forward in the development of FRAM as a next generation embedded non-volatile memory that allows them to integrate very dense memory cells with logic using a standard CMOS process," said G. Dan Hutcheson, President of VLSI Research Inc. "Using embedded FRAM in portable applications is very attractive because it can be produced with fairly simple additions to the manufacturing process and yet offers the promise of a cost, power, and performance sweet spot that will be hard for other non-volatile memory technologies to match."

FRAM for Embedded Applications
FRAMīs fast access time, low power dissipation, small cell size and affordable manufacturing cost means it can be used for both program and data applications, making it well suited for wireless applications. Other potential market applications include broadband access, consumer electronics and TIīs extensive catalog of programmable DSPs.

"We believe FRAM has the potential to become an ideal non-volatile memory option for a wide range of applications in the 2005 timeframe," said Hans Stork, senior vice president and director of TI's silicon technology development. "This demonstrates that semiconductor materials research coupled with innovative product design can deliver revolutionary advances, and TI believes FRAM can change the product dynamics in embedded memory."

TI's initial FRAM test chips were produced using TI's standard 130nm, copper-interconnect process with only two additional mask steps. The 1.5-volt chips demonstrate the smallest FRAM cells shown-to-date, measuring only 0.54um2, a much greater memory density than the SRAM cells on the same chip. At the 90nm process node, the generation where TI's first embedded FRAM products are expected to appear, the FRAM cells will be even smaller, a mere 0.35um2. FRAM memory combines the fast access and low-power qualities of volatile DRAM with the ability to retain data without power. Other non-volatile memories such as EEPROM and Flash are more expensive to build because of the multiple mask steps they require, have longer write times, and use more power to write data.

How FRAM Works
At the core of FRAM technology are tiny ferroelectric crystals integrated into a capacitor that allow FRAM products to operate like fast nonvolatile RAMs. The electric polarization of the ferroelectric crystals is shifted between two stable states by the application of an electric field. The direction of this electric polarization is sensed by internal circuits as either a high or a low logic state. Each orientation is stable and remains in place even after the electric field is removed, preserving the data within the memory without periodic refresh.

TI fabricates planar FRAM cells using a capacitor-on-plug approach and a 1 Transistor-1 Capacitor (1T-1C) architecture to minimize cell area. The ferroelectric capacitor is formed using Iridium electrodes and a thin Lead Zirconate Titanate (PZT) ferroelectric layer.

In August of 2001, TI entered into a multi-million dollar FRAM memory licensing and development agreement with U.S. semiconductor maker Ramtron International Corporation (NASDAQ: RMTR) that ultimately resulted in TI successfully producing the 64 Megabit FRAM device. Ramtron will focus their use of the jointly developed technology on stand-alone memory products.

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