Your Camera’s Memory Card in the Future May Be Phase-Change Instead of Flash

Flash memory currently dominates the non-volatile (i.e. retains data when unpowered) storage industry, including the memory cards used in digital photography, but there’s an emerging technology called “phase-change memory” that’s threatening to replace it. The Economist has published a great article explaining how the technology works and its advantages over flash:

As every parent knows, a tidy bedroom is very different from a messy one. The number of items in the room may be exactly the same, but the difference between orderly and disorderly arrangements is immediately apparent. Now imagine a house with millions of rooms, each of which is either tidy or messy. A robot in the house can inspect each room to see which state it is in. It can also turn a tidy room into a messy one (by throwing things on the floor at random) and a messy room into a tidy one (by tidying it up). This, in essence, is how a new class of memory chip works. It is called “phase-change memory” and, like the flash memory that provides storage in mobile phones, cameras and some laptops, it can retain information even when the power is switched off. But it promises to be smaller and faster than flash, and will probably be storing your photos, music and messages within a few years.

Phase-change memory can read and write data 100 times faster than flash, offers greater potential for miniaturization, and is more durable (over 10 million write/erase cycles instead of the thousands offered by flash memory). The technology is moving quickly into the mainstream consumer market, so we may soon find ourselves sticking phase-change memory cards into our cameras.

Altered States [The Economist]

Image credit: Moneta’s custom-built “Onyx” phase-change memory module. by Jacobs School of Engineering