Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory: The Path to Competitiveness

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With the first commercial product on the horizon, magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) is on a path to replace static random access memory (SRAM), dynamic random access memory (DRAM), and flash memory (and even disk drives in some applications) as the universal solid-state memory. Non-volatility, fast access time, and compatibility with CMOS technology are three of the most important features that make MRAM potentially superior to other existing memory technologies. To fully exploit these potentials, present MRAM designs need to overcome three major obstacles: stringent fabrication tolerances, relatively high power consumption, and response to write addressing disturbances. Although prototype memory devices have been successfully demonstrated, new, innovative designs are still required to make the technology truly competitive.

In the designs employed by today's MRAM manufacturers, the magnetic moment in a memory element is effectively linear, with its orientation representing the memory state "1" or "0." Switching between the two memory states is done by the Amperean field generated by currents in a pair of orthogonal conducting wires, often referred to as cross-point writing. The cross-point write addressing scheme generates write disturbances because the half-selected memory elements along each of the activated wires experience one of the two field components during a write operation. The result is a stringent requirement for a narrow switching field distribution for all the elements in a memory block, and consequently a stringent fabrication tolerance. The phenomenon is further exacerbated by the possibility of undesired thermally-activated magnetization reversals, especially at small physical dimensions of the memory elements.

The lecture will cover the micromagnetic magnetization reversal processes in various types of MRAM elements. Over the past seven years, extensive micromagnetic analyses and experimental investigations have provided key understanding to obtain robust magnetic switching, and they have become the design principles for today's memory elements. I will present a comprehensive study of thermally-activated magnetization reversal at small physical dimensions for various MRAM designs and will discuss the imposed area storage density limitations due to the write disturbance. I will conclude by introducing a novel design that completely eliminates the write addressing disturbance and substantially lowers power consumption by utilizing the spin transfer effect.