Dial M for MRAM

There's a change coming to an MCU near you, and it's for the better in several important ways.

Last month during pre-playoff Sunday Night Football coverage, Bob Costas asserted that the cliche "control your own destiny" is simply incorrect – control your own outcome, control your own process, but you can't control destiny. However, you might be able to microcontrol it.

One of the defining parameters of today's microcontroller is the use of onboard memory. That memory is most often some combination of flash and SRAM. Renesas Technology says they want to change this by 2010, and I'm sure other microcontroller manufacturers are thinking the same thing. Why is this important? The reasons fall into two categories: technical and business.

The technical reasons fit with today's hot trends. There are billions upon billions of microcontrollers out there today, with something like 12 billion new units to be shipped in 2009. As stated by Renesas executive VP Ali Sebt, even if all those functioning microcontrollers have standby modes, the power consumed is "inordinate." What if there were a technology that not only allowed standby power to be eliminated, but also allowed memory write cycles and memory data retention to be infinite?

The business reasons get into cost. Flash memory is generally licensed technology, and suppliers pay for the privilege to use it. What if a new technology could provide more control and eliminate significant costs?

Several manufacturers have been working on Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM) technology, but the concept promoted by Renesas and others to apply it to the insides of microcontrollers is new. Instead of selling commodity MRAM devices, Renesas intends to use MRAM to provide unified memory for MCUs. Yasushi Akao, general manager of the MCU business group at Renesas, put it best: "Nonvolatile memory is a must for MCU products, and we don't want to rely on outside producers for flash."

MRAM delivers on these wishes. It allows designers to get rid of standby power while providing infinite write cycles and data retention. It combines the best features of flash and SRAM, allowing simpler, smaller MCU designs. By using homegrown MRAM technology, a supplier can eliminate IP costs associated with flash.

Suppliers are dialing M for MRAM, and it's coming soon to an MCU near you. In the meantime, take a look at this issue's articles on the latest in MCU and System-on-Chip (SoC) technology, with viewpoints from Cypress Semiconductor, Renesas, Delorie Software, Texas Instruments, and Digi International. Drop me a line at ddingee@opensystemsmedia.com if you would like to discuss destiny, MCUs, or any other interesting topics.